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Pinoy brings home COVID variant, DOH eyes UAE travel ban

Francisco Duque III
Health Secretary Francisco Duque III

Metro Manila (CNN Philippines, January 14) — Health Secretary Francisco Duque III will recommend prohibiting the entry of foreign travelers from the United Arab Emirates after a Filipino who flew home from the Gulf country became the Philippines’ first case of the new COVID-19 variant initially detected in the United Kingdom.

“We will recommend to the Office of the President the inclusion of UAE in the travel restriction. Wala kaming duda na ito ay aaprubahan,” Duque said in a media briefing Thursday.

He said UAE was not included in the government’s initial list of areas with travel restrictions because it did not report the presence of any emerging COVID-19 variant.

The Philippines banned travel from the UK on December 22, several days after it reported detecting the new variant. The ban was expanded to 33 jurisdictions after they confirmed the presence in their area of emerging COVID-19 variants believed to be more transmissible. Filipinos coming from these places are allowed to enter the country, but they are required to complete the facility-based 14-day quarantine.

The travel ban is set to expire on Friday. The COVID-19 task force will deliberate if it will be extended or expanded.

Pending the government’s decision, health officials said they are taking a “pro-active stance” by sending samples of travelers from UAE to the Philippine Genome Center to check for the presence of new variants.

Officials on Wednesday confirmed the presence in the Philippines of the B.1.1.7. SARS-CoV-2 variant first reported in the UK. The patient is a 29-year-old Filipino real estate agent from Kamuning in Quezon City who arrived in the country on January 7 from the UAE. The patient and his close contacts are quarantined in government facilities.

Health experts from the technical working group on COVID-19 variants hailed the government’s efforts in the early detection of the entry of the mutated virus.

“Gumagana ang surveillance system dahil we were able to detect it early… We have the tools. If everybody will cooperate, we can prevent a big surge this time,” Dr. Edsel Salvana said.

Dr. Marissa Alejandria added, “Hindi natin kailangang mag-panic o matakot sa balita na mayroon tayong na-detect na UK variant sa ating bansa. Bagkus pinapakita nito na maganda ang ating surveillance system.” By CNN Philippines Staff