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DOH intensifies genomic biosurveillance UK variant

FOLLOWING the detection of the United Kingdom COVID-19 variant in the Philippines, the Department of Health intensified weekly genomic biosurveillance among incoming passengers, local cases, re-infected patients, and those with reported clustering of cases.

Health Secretary Francisco T. Duque III said all inbound travelers who test positive for COVID-19 are now being tested for the more infectious variant of the virus when previously the country did only random genome sequencing of the samples of inbound passengers who tested positive for COVID-19.

Weekly genomic biosurveillance among incoming passengers, local cases, re-infected patients, and those with reported clustering of cases will be intensified. The DOH has also coordinated with the Department of the Interior and Local Government for the expansion of contact tracing to include third-generation close contacts for known B.1.1.7 cases. All close contacts of confirmed B.1.1.7 cases shall also undergo strict 14-day facility-based quarantine,” he said.

Genomic sequencing is the process of analyzing the virus sample taken from a diagnosed patient and comparing it with other cases to see whether those who tested positive for COVID-19 have the new variant.

Cycle threshold or CT value is the measure of the viral load of a patient which is being used by clinicians to further confirm the RT-PCR test of a positive case.

The UK variant known as B117 – believed to be more infectious than the original version of the virus – was first detected in the United Kingdom in September 2020.

The DOH and the Philippine Genome Center earlier confirmed the detection of the UK variant in the country after samples from a Filipino who arrived from the United Arab Emirates on Jan. 7 yielded positive genome sequencing results.

The said patient is a male resident of Quezon City who departed for Dubai on Dec. 27, 2020 for business purposes and arrived in the Philippines last Jan. 7 via Emirates Flight No. EK 332. The patient was swabbed and quarantined in a hotel upon arrival. The positive test result 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 patient was also accompanied by his girlfriend during his trip, but she tested negative for SARS-CoV-2 upon arrival. She is currently under strict quarantine and monitoring.

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. Immediate contact tracing was done in close coordination with the QC government, and the initially identified contacts are asymptomatic and currently under strict home quarantine.

The DOH reiterates its call to our national government agencies, local government units and the public for stricter observance of the minimum public health standards and stricter implementation of quarantine protocols to further mitigate the risk of acquiring the virus and slow down possible mutations,” Duque also said.