34 contacts of UK variant cases in Bontoc positive for COVID-19

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Metro Manila (CNN Philippines, January 25) — Health officials have traced the close contacts of the 12 patients in Bontoc, Mt. Province found to be carrying the more transmissible COVID-19 variant first found in the United Kingdom.

Health Department spokesperson Maria Rosario Vergeire on Monday said they have located 144 close contacts of the cases. Of this number, 34 people tested positive for COVID-19 -- six of whom were negative for the UK variant called B.1.1.7 SARS-CoV-2, while 28 samples have yet to be submitted to the Philippine Genome Center for genome sequencing.

Vergeire added they have also monitored three clusters of the coronavirus infection in Bontoc.

"Sa contact tracing na ito, mayroon tayong nakita na additional na 34 na positive pa... Itong tatlong cluster ng infection na nakikita na natin ang paghahawa-hawa na nangyari. Nakita natin ang pinagmulan pero hindi pa siya definite," she said in a media briefing.

[Translation: In our contact tracing, we found an additional 34 COVID-19 positive cases. We saw three clusters of infection and we're already seeing the spread. We have found its source but it's not yet definite.]

The DOH said the index case arrived in the country from UK on Dec. 13. The person reached Bontoc the next day with a negative swab test. The person attended a Christmas celebration and a ritual on the 26th, then started having abdominal pain — a COVID-19 symptom — on Dec. 29.

The mountainous province of Bontoc accounts for the majority of cases of the UK variant in the country. Of the 12 residents found with the B.1.1.7 SARS-CoV-2 variant, three are minors. Vergeire said 11 people found with the UK variant in the province were all contacts of the case who arrived from UK. Five villages in Bontoc were placed under enhanced community quarantine until the end of the month.

Meanwhile, the DOH said four household members of the UK variant case in La Trinidad, Benguet also contracted the virus. It was not immediately clear if their samples underwent genome sequencing. Authorities have traced 97 contacts.

The country has recorded at least 17 cases of the variant. The first case announced on Jan. 13 was a Filipino who traveled to Dubai.