144 close contacts identified in 12 UK variant cases in Bontoc

Bonz Magsambol
144 close contacts identified in 12 UK variant cases in Bontoc
Health Undersecretary Maria Rosario Vergeire says they were able to identify 3 clusters of infection in Bontoc town, which are still being studied

The Department of Health (DOH) said on Monday, January 25, that a total of 144 close contacts were identified in the 12 cases of the more infectious United Kingdom (UK) COVID-19 variant in Bontoc, Mountain Province.

Health Undersecretary Maria Rosario Vergeire said authorities were able to identify the index case of the UK variant in Bontoc town who arrived there on December 14.

The case arrived in Manila on December 13 from the UK.

Here’s the timeline of events according to the DOH:

  • December 11: The case arrived in Manila from United Kingdom.
  • December 12: The case tested negative for COVID-19.
  • December 13: The case went home to Bontoc.
  • December 14: The case arrived in Bontoc.
  • December 21: The case traveled to Sagada.
  • December 25: The case celebrated Christmas with family.
  • December 26: The case attended a ritual together with the natives of Bontoc.
  • December 29: The case started developing symptoms of COVID-19.

Of the 144 close contacts, 116 were tested for the virus – 42 yielded positive results.

Table from DOH

Vergeire explained that among the 42 second generation close contacts – individuals that direct contacts of the index case interacted with – only 14 were initially submitted for genome sequencing. The results were 8 positive for the variant, who are among the 12 UK variant cases identified, and 6 negative.

The remaining 28 specimens will be sent to the Philippine Genome Center (PGC) for genome sequencing.

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. 

But in an interview with Teleradyo on Saturday, January 23, Bontoc Mayor Franklin Odsey said the index case arrived on December 11 in their town.

Vergeire said that they were able to identify 3 clusters of infection in Bontoc town, which are still being studied.

Nearly a year after the Philippines detected its first case of COVID-19, the government has implemented a repeat test for incoming travelers in the country.

Health officials said a second round of testing 5 days after the arrival of travelers will provide an additional layer of protection against COVID-19 transmission in the country.

The DOH also explained that the 14-day quarantine period for travelers is really necessary to make sure that the incubation period of the virus will be finished by that time.

The World Health Organization defines incubation period as the time between exposure to the virus and symptom onset, which is 5 to 6 days on average, but can be as long as 14 days.

On Friday evening, January 22, the DOH confirmed 16 new cases, bringing the total in the country to 17. Twelve of these cases were in Bontoc town.

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UK variant in PH as early as December 10

To ramp up the country’s monitoring for the new COVID-19 variants, the DOH said on January 13 that it had started its biogenomic surveillance or collection of samples from the vulnerable and at-risk sectors that will undergo genome sequencing.

The PGC is doing the genome sequencing in batches. The DOH earlier said that it would collect samples of those positive for COVID-19 or the archived samples to check if the UK variant had already entered the country even before health authorities detected it in January.

In a press briefing on Saturday, Dr Edsel Salvana from the health advisory technical working group said samples from one of the 16 patients who were recently found to be positive for the UK variant was collected last December 10.

Updates on other cases

Meanwhile, the DOH has identified 97 contacts of the UK variant case in La Trinidad, Benguet. Vergeire said that 4 of the household members of the case tested positive for COVID-19 – the mother, father, sibling, and grandmother – while the rest tested negative for the virus and are quarantined.

It is unknown yet if they also tested positive for the UK variant.

Vergeire said that they are still tracing and investigating the contacts of the cases from overseas Filipino workers who arrived in the country on December 29 from Lebanon, and the case from Calamba, Laguna.

The country confirmed its first known case of the UK variant on January 13 in a Filipino male resident from Quezon City who traveled to Dubai on December 27 and returned to Manila on January 7. The DOH said he already tested negative for COVID-19.

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The UK variant known as B117 was first detected in the United Kingdom in September 2020. In November, around a quarter of the reported COVID-19 cases in the country were found to be of the new variant of SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19.

The country has so far detected 17 cases of the UK variant. –

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Bonz Magsambol

Bonz Magsambol is a multimedia reporter for Rappler, covering health, education, and social welfare. He first joined Rappler as a social media producer in 2016.