Health officials check on 8 returning Filipinos for possible source of new COVID-19 variant in Bontoc

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Metro Manila (CNN Philippines, January 27) — Department of Health officials in the Cordillera region are looking into the swab test results of eight Filipinos who recently returned to Bontoc, Mountain Province as the source of the new COVID-19 variant spreading in the town.

"Nakakita sila ng walo na OFWs or returning overseas Filipinos na bumalik din po sa bansa at pumasok sa lugar na ito. Atin pang kukunin ang details at what were the RT-PCR results of these people so we can identify kung sino pa ang pwede natin makuhang detalye kung saan galing ang impeksyon na ito," Health spokesperson Maria Rosario Vergeire said on Wednesday.

[Translation: They saw eight OFWs or Filipinos who returned to the country and entered Bontoc. We will get their details like their RT-PCR results, so we can identify where the infection came from.]

Health officials are still figuring out the source of the UK variant that reached the mountainous town and infected 12 residents, including one returning Filipino.

Dr. Alethea de Guzman, medical specialist IV of the Health Department's Epidemiology Bureau, earlier said there is still no strong evidence to conclude the traveler from the United Kingdom is the source since the patient tested positive for COVID-19, but was not found with the more infectious B.1.1.7 variant. But de Guzman added that all the 11 other cases are linked to the patient.

The DOH has confirmed there is local transmission of the UK variant in Bontoc, but stressed there is no community transmission yet. To declare a community transmission, there should be several cases coming from different clusters, and the source of infection can no longer be traced.

Bontoc has the highest number of infections involving the UK variant in the country, accounting for 12 of the 17 cases. Three children in Bontoc aged 5, 6, and 10 were among the infected.