THIRTY-FOUR more cases of the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) in Bontoc, Mt. Province were reported by the Department of Health yesterday (DOH).
The new patients are close contacts of the 12 patients who have tested positive for the United Kingdom (UK) variant of the COVID-19 virus.
In a virtual press briefing, Health Undersecretary Maria Rosario Vergeire said 28 of the 34 cases are still up for genome sequencing, while other six cases have been found to be negative for the UK variant.
“We still need to backtrack for further analysis. We are also expanding the coverage of our contact tracing,” said Vergeire.
In all, the DOH said they were able to trace 136 close contacts of the patients who are infected with the UK variant. Of this, 108 have already been tested, with 74 yielding negative results.
Vergeire said that for the first 12 cases in Bontoc, nine have been discharged while three are still in hospitals.
Vergeire said the high number of cases indicate there are now three clusters of COVID-19 infections in Bontoc.
“We can already see the transmission happening in these areas,” she said.
On Friday night, the DOH reported 16 additional COVID-19 cases of the UK variant in the Philippines.
This brought the total UK variant cases of COVID-19 in the country to 17, including the index case from Quezon City.
Aside from the 12 in Bontoc, the B.1.1.7 variant was also detected in one patient in La Trinidad, Benguet; one in Calamba City, Laguna; and two from returning overseas Filipinos (ROFs) from Lebanon.
Vergeire said the DOH has been able to trace 97 close contacts of the Benguet patient, with four testing positive for COVID-19.
“We identified four positive close contacts. Mother, father, sibling, and grandmother, all from the same household of the patient,” said the health official.
Vergeire said they are still doing case investigation and contact tracing for the two ROFs and the one in Laguna.
Bontoc Mayor Franklin Odsey said five barangays are on lockdown until January 31.
“If (the) contract tracers who are now in our municipality will not be able to finish their contact tracing, then we will extend the lockdown,” Odsey said.
On the possibility of the entire town being locked down, Odsey said: “I’m praying we won’t get to that category because we are exerting efforts that it (virus) will not spread to our surrounding barangays.”
Odsey, who tested positive of the virus last January 15, said he was “fine.” He said he is asymptomatic and is now on home quarantine.
The mayor said he was uncertain if he caught the UK variant of COVID-19, noting that the DOH confirmed the 12 UK variant cases in Bontoc on January 22 or five days after he got sick.
Yesterday, Odsey said more contact tracers arrived Bontoc to help in tracing the close contacts of the 12 residents who have contracted the new variant of the virus.
During the Laging Handa press briefing, Odsey admitted that the town has been having difficulty in tracing the second and third generation contacts of the patients due to the limited number of contact tracers in the town.
Odsey said he is “so happy” that contact tracers from the Cordillera Administrative Region, Ilocos Region and Cagayan Valley were in town “to assist us in tracing second and third generation contacts.”
“They are now undergoing extensive and aggressive contact tracing so that we will be able to determine, segregate or home quarantine those who may have been infected,” he said.
Odsey appealed to his constituents to cooperate with authorities “for your safety and our safety. If we work as one, we can overcome (this).”
Justice Secretary Menardo Guevarra said the National Bureau of Investigation (NBI) has located one close contact of the first Filipino who tested positive for the UK variant.
“The NBI has located and turned over to the Department of Health one close contact, and discovered the location of another close contact, of the first arriving passenger who tested positive for the UK variant of the COVID 19,” Guevarra said, adding that “one was found in Cavite.”
Guevarra said the two were co-passengers of the patient in the flight from Dubai but whom the DOH has not been able to locate.
The DOH last Friday sought the NBI’s assistance in finding the two passengers of the Dubai-Manila flight. The two are the only ones left among the 159 passengers who arrived in Manila on January 7 who have not been traced by health authorities.
Malacañang yesterday warned Filipinos arriving in the country, especially those from countries covered by travel restrictions, to be truthful when declaring their travel history or they will be held liable if they are later found to be positive for COVID-19.
Presidential spokesman Harry Roque said existing protocols mandate all arriving Filipinos to take COVID-19 tests upon arrival and again on the fifth day after their arrival, along with a mandatory 14-day facility-based quarantine.
Roque made the warning amid rumors that a Filipino couple arrived in the country in late December and later travelled to Iloilo where they tested positive for COVID-19. The couple reportedly came from the United Kingdom, but did not declare the fact and instead claimed they were locally stranded individuals.
The government has imposed a travel ban until January 31 on 35 countries where cases of different variants of the COVID-19 virus have been reported.
Roque and Vergeire said the possible extension of the travel restriction in February has yet to be discussed by the Inter-Agency Task Force for the Management of Emerging Infectious Diseases. A recommendation will be submitted to President Duterte for his approval once a consensus is reached. – With Victor Reyes, Ashzel Hachero and Jocelyn Montemayor