The Department of Health (DOH) on Saturday said it is too early to say whether there is already local transmission of B.1.1.7 SARS-Cov-2 (United Kingdom) variant of the coronavirus disease 2019 (Covid-19) in the country.
“Considering that investigation is ongoing, it may be premature for us now to determine whether there is community transmission, we need to wait for the results of the investigation,” Dr. Celia Carlos, director of Research Institute for Tropical Medicine (RITM) of the DOH, said in a virtual presser.
This came as the DOH reported on Friday night that a total of 17 Covid-19 UK variant cases have been detected in the country.
Infectious disease expert and director of the Institute of Molecular Biology and Biotechnology at UP-National Institutes of Health (NIH) Dr. Edsel Salvana said they have been looking at samples back from October, November, and December.
He said that this is to make sure that there was no widespread transmission of the new Covid-19 variant in the country.
He added that they have not seen anything from the October to November samples, while one was detected in the December samples.
Salvana said right now, they have not seen any evidence of local transmission.
“Right now there’s no evidence of that dahil meron tayong isang cluster lang na alam naman natin na magkaka related sila and then we have to find where that person siguro kung ano yung common source nun (we have one cluster but we know that they are all relatives and we have to find their common source),” Salvana said.
Out of the 16 new cases of the UK variant reported on Friday, 12 were from Bontoc, Mountain Province — seven males and five females.
DOH Undersecretary Maria Rosario Vergeire said the other two cases are returning overseas Filipinos from Lebanon, one of whom has a local address in Jaro, Iloilo and the other is from Binangonan, Rizal.
Meanwhile, the two other cases are from La Trinidad, Benguet, and Calamba, Laguna.
Vergeire said of the additional 16 new cases with B 1.1.7 variant recorded, three have recovered, 13 are active cases, three of whom are asymptomatic and 10 have mild symptoms.
Health Secretary Francisco Duque III noted that the fact the UK variant in the country was detected early means that the country’s biosurveillance efforts are working.
Vergeire said they are contact tracing up to the second and third generation contacts of the UK variant positive cases.
Second generation contact refers to those who have been in close contact with the Covid-19 positive patient while the third generation is the contacts of their contacts.
Meanwhile, both Duque and testing czar, Baguio City Mayor Benjamin Magalong, reiterated the importance of contact tracing most especially by the local government units.
Magalong said it came to their knowledge that contact tracing of La Trinidad in Benguet is not well established.
He said they are talking to the Benguet provincial government to strengthen their border control with the Mountain Province.
With the UK variant already detected in the Mountain Province, Magalong said that he can safely assume that the UK variant is already in Baguio as residents of Mountain Province and Benguet come to Baguio.
He reiterated that to effectively control the spread of Covid-19, contact tracing must be strengthened.
“If only LGUs have the mindset to really expand they will hit a 1 is to 37 contact tracing. Simple logic: low testing equals low contact tracing equals low cases. No testing equals no contact tracing equals no cases,” he said.
Magalong said some local chief executives tend to politicize everything and make it appear that they are managing the Covid-19 situation in their localities.
He asked LGU officials to be consistent with their testing and contact tracing efforts.
He said the Philippine National Police has offered their help to the LGUs in terms of contact tracing but were rejected.
“The PNP is already involved in contact tracing. It’s on the LGU’s. Maraming LGU ang nire-reject sila laging sagot is kaya na namin at nafu-frustrate ang PNP (Many LGUs are rejecting the help being offered by the PNP saying that they can manage by themselves and the PNP is becoming frustrated),” he said. He said the PNP has investigative skills that local health officials may not have, adding that LGU’s should be open to the idea of tapping police personnel.