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DOH confirms local transmission of UK coronavirus variant in Bontoc

The Department of Health (DOH) on Monday confirmed the local transmission of new coronavirus variant B.1.1.7 in Bontoc, Mountain Province.

The B.1.1.7 variant was the new coronavirus variant initially discovered in the United Kingdom, which is more transmissible and possibly makes COVID-19 more severe. 

“The Department of Health confirms local transmission in Bontoc of the B.1.1.7 variant of SARS-CoV-2 as identified through genomic sequencing,” it said.

“To date, all identified cases with the UK variant can be epidemiologically linked to cases coming directly from outside the country (importation) or from specific cases or exposures that can still be identified (local transmission),” the DOH added.

However, the DOH said there was “no strong evidence” of community transmission of the B.1.1.7 variant based on the following benchmarks set by the World Health Organization:

  • Appearance of a large number of cases
  • Occurrence of case clusters in multiple areas
  • Inability to link cases to known sources of infection

Health authorities earlier said it was still “premature” to declare community transmission of the UK variant. 

17 cases

Meanwhile, the DOH disclosed more details on the 17 COVID-19 cases who have been found to have the new variant.  

The first case is a 29-year-old Quezon City resident who returned to the country from the United Arab Emirates earlier this month.  

He has since tested negative for COVID-19. 

The 16 additional UK variant cases include two returning overseas Filipinos (ROF) who returned to Manila from Lebanon aboard Philippine Airlines flight PR 8661 on December 29.

“Both tested positive upon arrival and were placed in facility-based isolation. They were discharged from isolation on January 9 and 13, 2021,” the DOH said.

The two other cases are a 23-year-old male Calamba City resident who tested positive for COVID-19 on December 10 and has since completed his mandatory isolation, and a 22-year-old male from La Trinidad, Benguet, who is asymptomatic and remains in isolation.

The remaining 12 cases came from Bontoc.

This figure includes seven men as well as three children aged 5, 6, and 10. 

Eleven of the Bontoc cases came from Barangay Samoki.

“The case clustering in Barangay Samoki was reported to have begun with an ROF who came from the UK. This ROF and his wife traveled to Bontoc via a private vehicle after testing negative on arrival,” the DOH said.

The department earlier reported that the said ROF took part in holiday festivities and a ritual. 

“Abdominal symptoms prompted [consultation] and subsequent PCR testing which turned positive. His sample was sent to UP-PGC (University of the Philippines-Philippine Genome Center) but was negative for the B.1.1.7 variant,” it added.

The DOH said the Regional Epidemiology and Surveillance Unit and local authorities were conducting a “backward tracing” to identify how the Bontoc cases contracted the UK variant.

Mutation ‘normal’

The DOH also said that the mutation of a virus is “normal.”

“Mutation is a normal response and not necessarily ‘bad’ but higher case numbers may lead to additional mutations and appearance of variants of concern,” it explained.

The department said its prevention, detection, isolation, treatment, and re-integration strategies against COVID-19 “remain effective… to prevent and mitigate rise in cases.”

“There is no difference in the necessary actions that people should do for the UK variant. The minimum health standards remain to be the best way to halt transmission and avoid mutation of the virus,” it added.

The Philippines has tallied 514,996 infections as of Monday afternoon. —LDF, GMA News