PH to test all COVID-positive travelers for new variant

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Metro Manila (CNN Philippines, January 15) — Instead of conducting random sampling, the specimen of all incoming travelers who will test positive for COVID-19 will undergo genome sequencing to detect the possible presence of new COVID-19 variants.

Health Department spokesperson Maria Rosario Vergeire on Friday said this new directive is part of the government's plan to strengthen biosurveillance after the Philippines recorded its first case of a Filipino patient with the variant first found in United Kingdom.

Incoming travelers will be swabbed for an RT-PCR test. The samples of those who will be positive for COVID-19 will be forwarded to the Philippine Genome Center.

"We are now going to test all incoming travelers na nanggagaling sa lahat ng sulok ng mundo. Pagpasok nila dito they will be swabbed and lahat ng ng magpa-positive, we will now start to test para tayo ay nakakasigurado," Vergeire said in a media briefing.

[Translation: We are now going to test all incoming travelers across the globe. Once they enter, they will be swabbed. Those with positive results, we will start sending them so we can be sure they don't have the new variant.]

The government is only imposing travel restrictions on foreigners from 33 jurisdictions. Previously, travelers who test positive upon arrival from these areas were the only samples sent to PGC for genome sequencing. The Philippines detected its first case of the UK variant by chance after the patient's sample was randomly sent to PGC since he arrived from United Arab Emirates — a country not included in the government's travel ban.

DOH said all returning Filipinos will be allowed to enter the country, but will be subjected to complete the mandatory 14-day faciliy-based quarantine regardless of swab test result. A total travel ban and deployment ban are not an option for now, Vergeire said.

PH's first UK variant case

Authorities continue to reach contacts of the 29-year-old male real estate agent who was detected with the UK variant on Jan. 13.

Vergeire said they have contacted 146 out of the 159 people on board the Emirates flight from Dubai to Manila. She added some are already quarantined in their homes or facilities, while 13 others are rejecting calls or not answering their phones.

The DOH warned of sanctions for those who will not cooperate with authorities. All airline crew and passengers of the flight are advised to undergo strict isolation.