18 new cases of B.1.1.7 variant first found in the UK detected in the PH

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Metro Manila (CNN Philippines, February 21) — Eighteen new cases of a COVID-19 variant first seen in the UK have been detected in the country.

"The Department of Health (DOH), the University of the Philippines-Philippine Genome Center (UP-PGC), and the UP-National Institutes of Health (UP-NIH) today confirm eighteen (18) additional B.1.1.7 variant (UK variant) cases among the 7th batch of 757 samples sequenced by the UP-PGC on February 18, which brings the total B.1.1.7 variant cases in the country to 62," said a release from the DOH Sunday.

According to the DOH, 13 of these cases are returning overseas Filipinos who entered the country between January 3 to 27.

"All of these cases are now tagged as recovered and the DOH is currently investigating compliance to isolation protocols and the contact tracing done for these ROFs," said the DOH

Three other cases are from the Cordillera Administrative Region, while the other two are being verified if they are from ROFs or are local cases.

The DOH added two of the cases in CAR are minors connected to the original cluster from Samoki, Bontoc. The other is a 41-year-old female connected to the first La Trinidad cluster.

No other details have been released, however the DOH said they will give updates once available.

The B.1.1.7 variant was first confirmed to be in the country in January.

"The DOH, UP-PGC, and UP-NIH further report that an additional sample from Region 7 belonging to the last (6th) genome sequencing batch was found to have both N501Y and E484K mutations, while 2 among the 80 Region 7 samples sequenced in the 7th batch were also found to have both mutations, bringing the total to 34," the release said.

The Center for Health Development Central Visayas has been notified of these additional cases with mutations, and an investigation to help stem the transmission as well as contact tracing is underway, with the help of local government units and other officials.

READ: DOH confirms new COVID-19 mutations in Central Visayas

According to Dr. Mary Jean Loreche, spokesperson for the CHD in Central Visayas, most of the 34 cases found to have the new mutations of concern (MOCs) have already been released after the mandatory 14-day quarantine. Most also have mild or no symptoms, she added.

Loreche said they will carry on with their bio surveillance efforts and send more samples for genome sequencing "in order to see the total picture of the extent of the presence of MOCs."

DOH, UP-PGC and UP-NIH are also preparing to submit these findings to the World Health Organization and the Global Initiative on Sharing All Influenza Data.

The DOH says LGUs where cases with the variant of concern and mutations should closely monitor the situation in the areas and implement measures to prevent futher spread as needed.

"The DOH further calls on LGUs to immediately flag sharp upticks in cases to the DOH in order to activate targeted biosurveillance activities.," they said.

CNN Philippines’ Cebu-based Correspondent Dale Israel contributed to this report.