Davao City Health Covid-19 focal person Dr. Ashley Lopez has recommended for a tighter border control and biosurveillance through genomic testing to prevent the new strain of Covid-19 from penetrating the city.
Lopez gave the recommendation after the Department of Health (DOH) issued a statement on January 13, 2021, confirming 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.
Prior to the issuance of the statement, Lopez had a discussion with vaccine czar Secretary Carlito Galvez Jr., the secretary asked him to submit the specimens of patients tested positive of Covid-19 this January to ensure that these patients are not carriers of the new variant.
The specimens were sent to the Research Institute for Tropical Medicine (RITM) to check if the new variant is already present in the said samples through genomic test.
Genomic testing or sequencing offers a key to unlocking the puzzle of local transmission of Covid-19. The process include taking a “genetic fingerprint” of an organism and maps how the DNA or RNA inside it is ordered and by looking at the genetic sequence of different cases, we can detect minute differences in each new infection.
“In anticipation of the possible entry of new variant in Davao City, although, the cases in Davao City is related to the surge but Sec. Galvez wants to be sure and that we have to submit specimens to RITM to perform genomic test para mahibal-an kung ang strain sa virus is a new variant or an original virus. We are submitting specimens tested this January to undergo the genomic test,” said Lopez in a live broadcast interview on January 13, 2021.
In a statement, DOH disclosed that the said patient is a male resident of Quezon City who departed for Dubai on December 27, 2020 for business purposes and arrived in the Philippines last January 7, 2021 via Emirates Flight No. EK 332. The patient 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. The patient was also accompanied by his female partner during his trip, but she tested negative for SARS-CoV-2 upon arrival. The female is currently under strict quarantine and monitoring.
Both of the returning Filipinos had no exposure to a confirmed case prior to their departure to Dubai nor had any travel activities outside Quezon City (QC). Immediate contact tracing was done in close coordination with the QC government, and the initially identified contacts are asymptomatic and currently under strict home quarantine. The DOH continues to work closely with the QC LGU to ensure timely and effective measures are in place to mitigate transmission.
The DOH has also secured the flight manifest of the flight in question and contact tracing of other passengers is now underway. The DOH advises those who were aboard Emirates Flight No. EK 332 to get in touch with their BHERTs.
Meanwhile, weekly genomic biosurveillance among incoming passengers, local cases, re-infected patients, and those with reported clustering of cases will be intensified.
The DOH has also coordinated with the Department of Interior and Local Government (DILG) for the expansion of contact tracing to include third-generation close contacts for known B.1.1.7 cases. All close contacts of confirmed B.1.1.7 cases shall also undergo strict 14-day facility-based quarantine.
The DOH has also reiterated its call to the national government agencies, local government units and the public for stricter observance of the minimum public health standards and stricter implementation of quarantine protocols to further mitigate the risk of acquiring the virus and slow down possible mutations.