DOH confirms UK variant transmission in Bontoc

    London is a COVID-19 hotspot (REUTERS PHOTO)

    THE Department of Health (DOH) yesterday confirmed a local transmission of the B.1.1.7 variant of the COVID-19 virus from the United Kingdom (UK) in Bontoc, Mt. Province after 12 cases of the new variant was detected in the province.

    In a “narrative” released by the DOH, it said the 12 cases are enough proof of having a local transmission.

    “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),” it said.

    The health department, however, said it was still premature to declare a community transmission of the UK variant as it has not met the criteria of the World Health Organization (WHO).

    “The criteria include the appearance of a large number of cases, occurrence of case clusters in multiple areas, and inability to link cases to known sources of infection… We have found no strong evidence of community transmission based on the WHO definitions for community transmission,” said the DOH.

    DOH records show that 11 of the 12 cases in Bontoc are from barangay Samoki.

    While the presence of a local transmission has already been established, the DOH – Epidemiology Bureau (EB) said it is still unable to identify the original source of the virus in the area.

    In a virtual press briefing, DOH-EB Medical Specialist Alethea de Guzman said they have yet to confirm initial information that the index case was a returning overseas Filipino from the UK.

    In a separate statement, the DOH revised its announcement on Monday about the index case and said the male patient tested positive for COVID-19 but negative for the new variant. His wife tested negative for COVID-19.

    The man supposedly arrived in the country from UK on December 13 and came home to Bontoc the next day. On December 26, he allegedly attended a Christmas celebration and a ritual. He started feeling COVID-19 symptoms on December 29.

    The DOH said that among the 12 patients who tested positive of the UK variant, seven of them are men and three are children aged 5, 6, and 10.

    “While we have identified linkages of cases to the travelers from the UK, said traveler was negative for the B.1.1.7 variant and his wife was negative for COVID-19,” said De Guzman.

    She said this made it necessary for the Regional Epidemiology and Surveillance Unit (RESU) to widen the scope of their epidemiological investigation.

    “The RESU and local government unit are currently backward tracing exposures and travel histories of cases to identify other possible source/s of infection. They are also identifying and interviewing other ROF who recently arrived in their municipality to determine their health, laboratory, and isolation/quarantine status,” she also said.

    “There is ongoing contact tracing of contacts up to the third generation for these B.1.1.7 variant cases. Samples from contacts not tested or negative on first test are being collected for PCR testing and sequencing, for eligible samples,” she added.

    A total of 34 close contacts of the 12 UK variant cases in the province have also tested positive for COVID-19, with six found negative for the B.1.1.7 variant, and 28 yet to be sequenced.

    OTHER UK STRAIN CASES

    As for the close contacts of the two returning overseas Filipinos (ROF) from Lebanon, the DOH said the flight manifest of PAL PR 8661 last December 29 showed that there were 283 other passengers and 19 flight crew with the two positives.

    Of those in the same flight, the health department said four other passengers tested positive for COVID-19, with their samples now set for sequencing; 228 passengers tested negative, while the laboratory status of the other 51 passengers and 19 flight crew are still up for verification.

    “Once the laboratory status of the remaining passengers and crew has been verified, the DOH will prioritize the sequencing of the specimens of the four positive passengers,” said the DOH.

    As to the case in La Trinidad, Benguet, the patient was found to have 10 close contacts, including six household members and four co-workers.

    The DOH said four of the six household members were found positive for COVID-19, and are already set to be submitted for sequencing, while the four co-workers have yet to be swabbed for testing.

    The DOH also said it is still verifying the travel history, exposure, and other details of the UK variant patient in Calamba City, Laguna.