COVID-19 UK variant infects 19 more in PH
MANILA, Philippines — The Department of Health (DOH) said it had recorded 19 new infections of the B.1.1.7 variant of the coronavirus first detected in the United Kingdom, which brought the total number of cases of the new, more infectious variant in the country to 44.
Health Undersecretary Maria Rosario Vergeire maintained that there was yet no evidence pointing to community transmission of the variant.
In a statement on Friday night, the DOH said it had yet to establish a connection between all the cases, or if the 19 additional cases have a history of travel outside the country.
The 19 new cases were part of a batch of 718 samples sequenced by the Philippine Genome Center beginning Feb. 8. It was the sixth batch to be examined by the center since Jan. 13.
The samples were taken from all regions in the country except the Bangsamoro Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao.
Region representation“[They] were selected to ensure representation of each region as well as areas where spikes in cases have been reported,” the DOH said.
Of the new infections, three are from the Davao Region, and two, from Calabarzon (Cavite, Laguna, Batangas, Rizal and Quezon). Another eight are returning overseas workers, while the remaining six are “currently being validated,” the DOH said.
The cases in the Davao Region involve a 10-year-old boy, a 54-year-old woman and a 33-year-old man—all active cases with mild symptoms.
The cases in Calabarzon involve a 76-year-old woman, also an active case with mild symptoms, and a 20-year-old woman who, according to the DOH, has now recovered.
The eight overseas workers — four men and four women — are between 28 and 53 years old, the DOH said. Six of them are being monitored in isolation facilities, while the other two have already recovered, the agency said.
“Case investigation and contact tracing have been initiated to verify reported information and trace possible sources of infection. The DOH shall release additional information once available,” the DOH said of the remaining six cases.
Vergeire said “There is still no sufficient evidence to state that we have ongoing community transmission of this variant.”
The World Health Organization has set three conditions for declaring community transmission: there should be a large number of cases, case clusters in multiple areas, and the cases cannot be linked to known sources of infection.
In January, the DOH declared local transmission of the UK variant. Local transmission means the cases can be epidemiologically linked and can be traced as well to cases outside the country.
Speaking at the government’s Laging Handa briefing on Saturday, Dr. Butch Ong, a fellow of Octa Research, stressed the need continued compliance with health and safety regulations, saying “we are in a precarious balance now.”
Ong warned that the number of cases “could go up or down, depending on how we perform or how we implement the minimum health standards.”
“And to decide now to open commerce and industry, we must be more vigilant now,” he said, referring to the decision of the Inter-Agency Task Force for the Management of Emerging Infectious Diseases to allow the reopening of cinemas, game arcades, theme parks, natural parks and historical landmarks, among others, starting Monday.
“We understand that we need to stimulate our economy at this point in time, and we just need to follow our minimum health standards,” he said. “The worst is not yet over, I think, but we are beginning to arm ourselves better.”
Industries could be reopened even with the entry of the UK variant, but this must be done “very, very carefully and very, very cautiously,” he said.
“Unlike last year, we have a better hospital capacity. The government has improved the number of COVID wards, the number of doctors, the number of health-care workers working against COVID-19. Last year it was not that many,” he pointed out.
The DOH on Saturday logged 1,960 new COVID-19 infections, raising the total case count to 547,255.
In its daily case bulletin, the DOH said there were 34,967 active cases, of which 86.3 percent have mild symptoms, 8.7 percent are asymptomatic, 2.3 percent are critical, 2.2 percent are severe, and 0.64 percent are moderate.
One hundred thirty-three patients have recovered, bringing total recoveries to 500,781. However, another 12 patients died, bringing the death toll to 11,507.
Three laboratories failed to submit their data to the COVID-19 Data Repository System on Friday, the DOH said.
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