TIMELINE: The new Covid-19 variant from overseas to PH
MANILA, Philippines — It is here. The new coronavirus variant, which was first detected in the United Kingdom (UK), has been detected in the Philippines, the Department of Health (DOH) announced Wednesday evening.
“Following strengthened biosurveillance and border control efforts, the Department of Health (DOH) and the Philippine Genome Center (PGC) today officially confirm the detection of the B.1.1.7. SARS-CoV-2 variant (UK variant) in the country after samples from a Filipino who arrived from the United Arab Emirates (UAE) on January 7 yielded positive genome sequencing results,” the DOH said in a statement.
According to DOH, the 29-year-old male patient is a resident of Quezon City who left for Dubai on December 27 for business purposes and arrived in the Philippines last January 7 via Emirates Flight No. EK 332.
Meanwhile, the patient’s female partner who accompanied him during his trip tested negative for SARS-CoV-2 upon arrival. She is currently under strict quarantine and monitoring.
Prior to this announcement, there have been significant events in other countries involving the new variant. The national government, health department, and medical specialists have also made several announcements and statements during the past months.
Here is a timeline on some of the events surrounding the UK-based new Covid-19 variant:
December 19, 2020
British Prime Minister Boris Johnson discussed with senior ministers to take urgent action after confirming that the new variant found in the UK could spread more quickly and might cause an uptick in the country’s Covid-19 cases.
December 20, 2020
The new variant also named “VUI-202012/01” (Variant Under Investigation in December 2020) or the B.1.1.7, was first reported in the UK in mid-December.
However, the UK government said that the new variant might have emerged as early as September “and then circulated at very low levels in the population until mid-November.”
December 21, 2020
Johnson warned that the new variant was “out of control.” Several European countries also started banning flights from the UK.
According to an article published by the Agence France-Presse, scientists discovered that the new variant is “70 percent more transmissible” than the original Covid-19 strain.
December 22, 2020
In a press briefing, presidential spokesperson Harry Roque said they will consult the Department of Transportation (DOTr) regarding a proposed travel ban on travelers from the UK due to the new Covid-19 variant.
“Panahon na para ikonsidera iyang temporary travel ban sa UK. Bagamat (dapat) pakinggan din po natin ang sinabi ng WHO (World Health Organization) na hindi naman dapat ikabahala iyan dahil ganyan talaga iyong progression ng mga viruses. Pero dapat mag-ingat pa rin,” Roque said.
(It is time to consider a temporary travel ban in the UK. Although we should also listen to what the WHO said, we should not worry about that because that is exactly how the progression of viruses works. But still, we need to be careful.)
December 23, 2020
Following Roque’s statement on December 22, he announced the next day that all flights from the UK to the Philippines will be suspended starting December 24 until December 31.
According to Roque, President Rodrigo Duterte approved the travel ban proposal by the Inter-Agency Task Force on the Management of Emerging Infectious Diseases the night before.
The World Health Organization (WHO) meanwhile explained that there is no hard evidence yet to prove that the UK variant can be more contagious compared to the first Covid-19 strain.
“We’ve seen many variants emerge over the last number of months. Some had been successful, some had not been as successful in establishing themselves as part of the driving force of COVID-19,” said Dr. Mike Ryan, the WHO’s Health Emergencies Programme chief.
“What no variant has done yet is establish itself as having any higher level of severity or evading our diagnostics or hiding from vaccines or the effectiveness of the vaccines. It remains to be seen with any new variant. That’s why it’s important that we continue the work,” he added.
On the other hand, a new study published by the Centre for the Mathematical Modelling of Infectious Diseases at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine found that the new variant is was on average 56 percent more contagious than the original version.
This is lower than the previously announced 70 percent transmission rate.
“Nevertheless, the increase in transmissibility is likely to lead to a large increase in incidence, with COVID-19 hospitalizations and deaths projected to reach higher levels in 2021 than were observed in 2020, even if regional tiered restrictions implemented before 19 December are maintained,” the study stated.
December 26, 2020
INQUIRER.net published a story detailing the list of countries with confirmed cases of the new variant. Included in the list were South Korea, Canada, Sweden, Spain, France, Japan, Lebanon, Germany, Hong Kong, Italy, Singapore, Australia, Denmark, and the Netherlands.
Many countries have also imposed a strict travel ban that prohibits the entry of anyone from the UK to prevent further cases of the new Covid-19 variant.
December 29, 2020
Malacañang announced that the Philippines has expanded its travel ban to 19 more countries to prevent the transmission of the new COVID-19 variant.
Among the countries covered by the travel ban were: Denmark, Ireland, Japan, Australia, Israel, The Netherlands, Hong Kong, SAR, Switzerland, France, Germany, Iceland, Italy, Lebanon, Singapore, Sweden, South Korea, South Africa, Canada, and Spain.
Roque also said that the temporary suspension of flights and prohibition of entry on all travelers coming from the United Kingdom will be extended until Jan. 15
However, Filipino citizens coming from the aforementioned countries were exempted from the travel ban. They were required undergo a strict 14-day quarantine period and RT-PCR tests.
December 30, 2020
The United States recorded its first case of the new Covid-19 after it was detected in Colorado.
“Today we discovered Colorado’s first case of the COVID-19 variant B.1.1.7, the same variant discovered in the UK,” Colorado Governor Jared Polis said on Twitter.
December 31, 2020
On December 31, China also confirmed its first case of the new coronavirus variant.
According to the Chinese Center for Disease Control, China’s first patient with the new variant is a 23-year-old woman from Shanghai who arrived from Britain on December 14.
In December 2019, China reported to the World Health Organization (WHO) a “cluster” of pneumonia cases “of unknown cause” in Wuhan, a highly developed city in the province of Hubei.
It was only on January 7, 2020, that Chinese officials announced they had identified the new virus, calling it 2019-nCoV also known as Covid-19.
January 1, 2021
The Philippine government added the United States to the list of countries where a travel restriction is imposed to prevent the transmission of the new COVID-19 variant.
January 3, 2021
Following a statement by the Octa Research Group that the new variant could already be in the Philippines after Singapore confirmed that they have detected it in a patient, DOH clarified there is no confirmed case yet in the country.
“This is to clarify that as of Jan. 2, 2021, the Philippine Genome Center has not detected the UK variant in the country. All RT-PCR positive specimens from the countries with confirmed UK variant are to undergo genome sequencing beginning Monday, Jan. 4, 2021,” the DOH said in a statement.
January 6, 2021
DOH said results of the genome sequencing conducted by the Philippine Genome Center (PGC) showed that the new Covid-19 variant has yet to be detected in the country.
“Based on the lineage analysis through whole-genome sequencing done by the PGC, the UK variant was not detected in any of the 305 positive samples submitted to them from 9 institutions,” DOH said in a statement.
“The 305 samples analyzed by PGC were composed of positive samples from November-December hospital admissions and from inbound travelers who tested positive upon arrival at the airport,” it added.
Meanwhile, a technical working group (TWG) was formed by the Inter-Agency Task Force for the Management of Emerging Infectious Diseases (IATF) to focus on the new Covid-19 variants.
Dr. John Wong of health research institution Epimetrics Inc. warned that the Covid-19 caseload in the Philippines might increase by 15-fold if the UK variant becomes the dominant variant in the country.
Wong is also a part of the newly created TWG to monitor new Covid-19 variants.
Hong Kong, however, detected the presence of the new COVID-19 variant in a passenger who returned from the Philippines on Dec. 22.
Hong Kong health officials said Tuesday that four new cases of the new variant were detected in their country, one case of which is a 30-year-old female Hong Kong resident, who returned from Manila on Dec. 22.
January 7, 2021
After the news of a female passenger from Manila who was detected with the new COVID-19 variant in Hong Kong, Health Secretary Francisco Duque III said it is possible that the patient contracted the virus in Hong Kong.
“When she left, she was tested negative and on I think Jan. 2, 10 days after she arrived in Hong Kong, she tested positive,” Duque said in an interview on ABS-CBN News Channel.
“So that’s 10 days in between from the time she left and then the time she arrived in Hong Kong when she tested positive. So you can readily just speculate that it’s possible she might have contracted it there,” he added.
January 8, 2021
DOH Undersecretary Maria Rosario Singh-Vergeire said that the close contacts of the Filipina worker who tested positive for the new variant in Hong Kong have been swabbed, quarantined, and are being monitored.
Vergeire added that the individuals whom the UK-variant positive Filipina had contact with were traced in Cagayan Valley and Metro Manila.
January 12, 2021
DOH repudiated reports on social media that the UK variant, or any new variant of COVID-19, is already in the Philippines.
“The Department of Health and the Philippine Genome Center (PGC), to date, have not detected any UK variant, or any new variant of SARS-COV-2 in any of the positive samples tested,” the DOH said in a statement.
Health Undersecretary Maria Rosario Vergeire, who also heads a panel tasked to monitor new COVID-19 variants, likewise said that the results of the genome sequencing of the samples taken from the close contacts of the Filipino female domestic helper in Hong Kong who got infected with the UK variant of COVID-19 would be released within the week.
January 13, 2021
The DOH confirmed the first case of the new Covid-19 variant in the country.
The patient who came from Dubai “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” according to DOH.
It is still unknown where the said Filipino got infected with the UK variant.
The Quezon City government meanwhile said that the “patient and his companion tested negative before leaving the Philippines and tested negative as well upon arrival in Dubai.”
In a separate statement, the QC Epidemiology and Surveillance Unit (Cesu) reported that it is currently taking care of the patient in an isolation facility in the city.
The city government has also started its contact tracing to track down the patient’s close contacts including household members and the health workers who brought him to the facility.
“We are doing everything we can to trace and isolate, knowing fully well that this variant is more contagious but not more virulent,” said Cesu head Dr. Rolly Cruz.
The city government said it has already requested the list of passengers who were on the same flight as the patient to identify other people who may be from Quezon City.
Quezon City Mayor Joy Belmonte also announced on Wednesday that public mass gatherings and community celebrations like fiestas and festivals would be prohibited to prevent the further spread of Covid-19 amid the confirmation of the new variant in the country.
“Many QC barangays traditionally celebrate fiestas and other festivals this month and in the coming months. Unless regulated, these celebrations could lead to mass gatherings and encourage the spread of the COVID-19 virus,” Belmonte said in a memorandum.
“Isakripisyo muna natin ang mga nakaugalian tuwing may ganitong pagdiriwang para na rin sa ating kaligtasan,” she added.
(Let’s sacrifice for now our traditions during these celebrations for the sake of our own safety.)
Duterte, during a pre-recorded speech, expressed concern over the arrival of the new Covid-19 variant in the Philippines.
“There a new monster again. And I pray to God, really, that this is not more dangerous, more toxic than the original COVID. The vaccine being developed now is for fighting that,” Duterte said.
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