To curb the spread of the new variant in the country, the Inter-Agency Task Force for the Management of Emerging Infectious Diseases (IATF-EID) approved the recommendation to extend the temporary travel restrictions until Jan. 31, presidential spokesperson Harry Roque said in a statement.
Travelers from the UK, Denmark, Hungary, Ireland, Japan, Australia, Israel, the Netherlands, China, Hong Kong, Switzerland, France, Germany, Iceland, Italy, Lebanon, Singapore, Sweden, South Korea, South Africa, Canada, Spain, the United Arab Emirates, the United States, Portugal, India, Finland, Norway, Jordan, Brazil, Austria, Pakistan, Jamaica, Luxembourg, and Oman are prohibited from entering the Philippines.
Studies found that the UK variant is nearly 70 percent more transmissible than the original COVID-19 variant. However, there is no evidence yet that it is deadlier than the previous variant.
The government’s fresh directive came after the new variant was detected in a 29-year-old Filipino male who arrived home from the UAE on Jan. 7.
The travel ban was supposed to expire on Friday.
Filipinos from areas covered by the travel restrictions were initially allowed to come home, on condition that they undergo an “absolute” facility-based 14-day quarantine, notwithstanding a negative reverse transcription-polymerase chain reaction (RT-PCR) test result.
However, the IATF-EID Resolution issued on Thursday states that the temporary travel ban is applicable to “all travelers coming from or transiting” through the banned countries.
Roque said the exemptions to the entry restrictions may be issued by the IATF-EID technical working group, in coordination with concerned government agencies.
Travelers who test positive for COVID-19 upon arrival in the Philippines will have to undergo genome sequencing to check for new variants, the Department of Health (DOH) said on Friday.
Genome or gene sequencing is a process that allows scientists to see how a virus has mutated and if it has the new variants based on the samples from COVID-positive patients.
Vergeire said the strict protocols at the country’s ports of entry, including the genomic bio-surveillance would be their safeguard. She said this was why they were able to detect the first Filipino case with the new variant.
Vergeire added that experts already said that virus mutations and new variants are inevitable because “it’s part of the evolution of the virus.”
“We need to adapt. Just prevent and quickly comply and implement protocols,” she said.
She also reiterated that they can only restrict travelers from countries that have officially announced that they have detected the more infectious variant.
About 78 percent or 125 co-passengers of the 29-year-old male Filipino who tested positive for the more transmissible UK variant of the coronavirus are already in isolation and are waiting for COVID-19 test results, Vergeire said Friday.
Vergeire also said the Filipino who was infected with the UK variant of coronavirus, was on board a flight with 159 other passengers.
Vergeire then reminded these close contacts to cooperate with authorities since doing otherwise will be punishable by law.
The Quezon City government is seeking police assistance to go after a passenger on Emirates Flight No. EK332, the same flight of a 29-year-old man from the city who tested positive for the new strain of the coronavirus.
In an interview over radio dzMM, Dr. Rolando Cruz, City Epidemiology and Surveillance Unit head, said they have already traced and contacted six out of the eight passengers from Quezon City on the same Emirate flight with the COVID-19 patient and his girlfriend who all arrived from Dubai on Jan. 7.
The patient has pneumonia and currently under medication.
“So far, those six individuals have not manifested any symptoms, and that they have already been tested,” he said.
The city government has yet to look for the two other passengers.
“While we have the complete address of one of them, the other passenger has a wrong contact number declared in the manifesto,” he said.
“We will ask the police to look for that passenger,” he added.
San Lazaro Hospital is bracing for a possible surge of COVID-19 infections after a new, more contagious coronavirus variant has been detected in the Philippines.
“We’ve been preparing for this even before the holidays. We were expecting a surge of cases after the holidays,” Dr. Rontgene Solante, head of San Lazaro Hospital’s Adult Infectious Diseases and Tropical Medicine Department, told ANC Friday.
“Yes, we are ready for this eventual surge of cases especially the [new] variant is now here in the Philippines,” Solante said.
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