Girlfriend, mother of Filipino with new variant test positive for COVID-19

Bonz Magsambol
Girlfriend, mother of Filipino with new variant test positive for COVID-19
Health Undersecretary Maria Rosario Vergeire says that the samples of the identified close contacts will undergo genome sequencing to check the presence of the new variant

The Department of Health (DOH) on Wednesday, January 20, said that the girlfriend and the mother of the Filipino infected with the more infectious virus variant have tested positive for COVID-19.

In a virtual press briefing on Wednesday morning, Health Undersecretary Maria Rosario Vergeire said that the girlfriend initially tested negative for the virus upon arrival in the country on January 7. Their swab samples will undergo genome sequencing to check for the new variant.

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. 

Vergeire, however, noted that the cycle threshold (CT) value of the sample of the mother is more than 30, which means that it has a low viral load.

“It is inversely proportional. Kapag mababa naman ang CT value mo, mataas ang viral load mo (If you have low CT value, you have high viral load),” she said.

“We don’t know if the Genome Center will accept the samples because they have high CT values,” she said, explaining that it’s difficult to detect the presence of the new variant if a case has a low viral load.

Aside from the two household members, 10 co-passengers of the index case aboard Emirates Flight No. EK 332, and one close contact also tested positive for COVID-19 – a healthcare worker from Quezon City who attended to the index case.

Eight of the co-passengers, all Filipino citizens, tested positive for COVID-19 upon arrival in Manila on January 7. They are scheduled for another round of swabbing before Thursday, January 21, to confirm the results and their samples will be checked for the presence of the UK variant.

The said passengers were immediately transferred to isolation facilities and their samples were secured from confirming laboratories for whole genome sequencing to determine the presence of the UK variant.

“However, preliminary analysis showed that samples from all positive cases yielded a Cycle Threshold value greater than 30, which indicates low viral load and entails the need for re-swabbing to secure samples for sequencing,” the DOH said.

Meanwhile, the two other co-passengers initially tested negative.

Vergeire said that the health worker turned out to be a recovering COVID-19 patient. His samples were also sent to the Genome center.

The DOH said that they were able to trace 213 contacts of the index case. Only 6 contacts have not yet been contacted.

Here’s a summary of the contacts of the country’s index case of the new variant:

  • 159 co-passengers (10 tested positive)
  • 49 close contacts (47 swabbed, 1 positive)
  • 5 household members – (2 positive)
Why this matters

Effective contact tracing would prevent the more infectious variant of SARS-CoV-2 from spreading at a time when the Philippine government is struggling with its pandemic response.

Experts have warned that this new variant of COVID-19 might increase the coronavirus cases in the Philippines by up to 15-fold.

The COVID-19 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 there were found to be of the new 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.