More Contagious UK Variant of COVID-19 Detected in Philippines

Luis Liwanag and Basilio Sepe
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More Contagious UK Variant of COVID-19 Detected in Philippines Airport staff at Ninoy Aquino International Airport in Metro Manila put on protective gloves amid the COVID-19 pandemic, May 13, 2020.
[Basilio Sepe/BenarNews]

The Philippines on Wednesday said that it had detected the presence of the new, highly contagious so-called U.K.-variant of the coronavirus in the country.

The new strain, which is said to be 70 percent more transmissible than the old variant, was detected in an infected Filipino man who had arrived in the country from the Middle East last week, the Department of Health said in an advisory.

“The patient was swabbed and quarantined in a hotel upon arrival. The positive test result [for the variant] was released the following day and the patient was referred to a quarantine facility in Quezon City while his samples were sent to PGC for whole genome sequencing,” the health department said, referring to the Philippine Genome Center.

The infected Filipino man, whose female partner tested negative, flew back to Manila on Jan. 7 from the United Arab Emirates. Health and quarantine officials are now racing against time to locate the other passengers of the airplane they were on, the health department said.

“Both of the returning Filipinos had no exposure to a confirmed case prior to their departure to Dubai nor had any travel activities outside Quezon City,” the department said, referring to a northern suburb of Metropolitan Manila.

The Filipino man’s companion was not infected, but she is also under strict quarantine. Relatives and friends of the two had initially been identified as asymptomatic and are currently under “strict home quarantine,” the department said.

“The DOH has also secured the flight manifest of the flight in question, and contact tracing of other passengers is now underway,” it said.

The announcement about the new variant detected in the country came a day after the government added five countries to a list of nations and territories whose citizens it temporarily banned from entering the Philippines.

China, Pakistan, Jamaica, Luxemburg and Oman were added to the list of 21 nations and territories whose citizens are not allowed to enter the Philippines.

Overseas Filipinos returning from the proscribed countries will be let in but required to undergo a 14-day quarantine, labor secretary Silvestre Bello III had said late last month when announcing the earlier bans.

The country recorded 1,453 new COVID-19 infections and 146 new virus-related deaths, taking the total number of cases to 492,700 and total fatalities to 9,699. 

Philippines has the second highest number of coronavirus cases in East Asia after neighbor Indonesia, according to data compiled by Johns Hopkins University in the United States.

Vaccine preparedness

Meanwhile, President Rodrigo Duterte on Wednesday defended his decision to buy COVID-19 vaccines from China’s Sinovac, after researchers in Brazil said a day earlier that clinical trials there showed they were only 50.4 percent effective against the novel coronavirus.

“The [Chinese] vaccines are as good as any vaccine invented by Americans and Europeans. The Chinese don’t lack intellect. They’re bright, and they would not venture [into producing vaccines] if it is not safe, sure, and secure,” Duterte said, according to a translation of his televised address in a report from the state-run Philippine News Agency.

“I won’t buy a vaccine that’s not safe. Sinopharm and Sinovac have vaccinated almost all their people…If you don’t like the vaccine, it is fine. No problem. …If it turns out to be a mistake at the end of the day, it will be my responsibility,” Duterte added, referring to two Chinese COVID-19 vaccines.

The Philippines hopes to get its first official COVID-19 vaccines from China’s Sinovac by February, but the initial number of doses made available would be only 50,000, the government said earlier this week.

About a million doses each month are expected to follow until May, and two million doses are likely to arrive in June, the government said.

Negotiations with several vaccine makers from various others countries are also underway, even as their products were still in clinical trials, the government said.

“The government maintains a list of vaccines. This contains all the brand names and manufacturers of vaccines that are under development,” Carlito Galvez Jr., the cabinet official in charge of procuring the vaccine, said on Wednesday.

“From this list, the government identifies the companies it will negotiate with.”

Only vaccines approved by the Philippine Food and Drug Administration, regardless of their brand, “will be used to inoculate Filipinos.”

“[W]e want to assure our countrymen that all vaccines to be purchased by the government will undergo the stringent evaluation and stringent process of the Food and Drug Administration to ensure their safety and efficacy,” Galvez said.

The Philippine FDA had not approved the COVID-19 vaccine used earlier to inoculate some cabinet members and an undisclosed number of soldiers.

Duterte quashed attempts by the Senate to investigate how these people received shots of a Chinese-developed coronavirus vaccine in September and October, when no vaccine had been approved or officially procured in the country.


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