Authorities face challenge in tracing co-passengers of Filipino with UK variant

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Metro Manila (CNN Philippines, January 14) — Health officials have only contacted less than 60% of the co-passengers of the Filipino who was detected with the more transmissible COVID-19 variant upon arrival in the Philippines.

Health Department spokesperson Maria Rosario Vergeire on Thursday said some passengers cannot be reached while some outright rejected the calls of contact tracers. She said the Filipino patient was on the Emirates EK332 flight from Dubai to the Philippines with 159 other passengers. They have only contacted 92 people, with only 52 of them answering the calls. Of the 23 passengers seated near the patient and his girlfriend, only 15 people have been contacted.

DOH Medical Specialist IV Dr. Alethea de Guzman said they have already reached out to the Quezon City government and Interior Department to personally visit the addresses of the passengers.

"If we cannot contact them via their number, we can try to physically locate them," she said in a media briefing.

She added that they are also trying to trace the patient's co-passengers during his flight from Manila to Dubai on December 27 via Emirates Flight No. EK 335.

In an interview with CNN Philippines’ News Night, contact tracing czar and Baguio City Mayor Benjamin Magalong noted the need for the co-passengers’ cooperation with authorities, saying there is a likelihood of viral transmission in the aircraft due to air circulation.

Nagtataka nga sila bakit itong particular na case na ‘to [Contact tracers are wondering why in this particular case], the close contacts are non-cooperative,” Magalong said. “It’s probably because many of them are panicking, siguro [perhaps] they don’t want to be contacted for the meantime because…their anxiety level is high, emotional sila [they’re emotional], they are irrational, they’re confused.”

The new variant from the UK is still being studied, but initial research showed that it spreads more quickly. There is still no evidence that it can lead to severe complications. Authorities also repeatedly pointed out the need for early identification of close contacts to prevent further spread of the virus.

The 29-year-old male real estate agent is the country's first case of the more transmissible COVID-19 variant. He was negative for COVID-19 on December 25 before his flight to Dubai. He also tested negative upon arrival in the Gulf state. He tested positive in the swab test after he returned to the Philippines on January 7. His test result was reviewed by the Philippine Genome Center, where the presence of the B.1.1.2 variant was found.