PH records first 2 cases of COVID-19 variant from India

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Metro Manila (CNN Philippines, May 11) — The country on Tuesday confirmed its first two cases of the new COVID-19 variant first detected in pandemic-ravaged India.

The Department of Health said the two cases found with the B.1617 variant — described as a double mutant and believed to be more transmissible — are returning overseas Filipinos who have no travel history from India. Both patients are now asymptomatic and tagged as recovered.

The first case is a 37-year-old seafarer who arrived in the Philippines from Oman on April 10. He tested positive for COVID-19 on April 15 and completed his isolation in a hotel in Metro Manila on April 26. He tested negative after another swab test on May 3. He is now in his hometown in Soccsksargen, the DOH said.

The second patient is a 58-year-old seafarer from the United Arab Emirates who landed in the country on April 19. He isolated in Clark Freeport Zone in Pampanga and was tagged as recovered on May 6. He has returned home to the Bicol Region, according to the DOH.

DOH Epidemiology Bureau Director Dr. Thea de Guzman said there are no identified close contacts since the two patients were quarantined and isolated from their arrival until their recovery. The DOH is confirming if the other passengers in their flights have completed their 14-day quarantine.

"Wala tayong nakitang close contacts after they arrived here, put in a quarantine, and then finished their quarantine and isolation," she said in a media briefing.

[Translation: We did not identify any close contacts after they arrived here, put on quarantine, and finished it.]

The World Health Organization on Monday classified the B.1617 variant as one "of concern at the global level" after some preliminary studies showed that it spreads more easily.

Meanwhile, the samples of travelers and seafarers who have travel history from India have yet to be checked for the presence of any variant. Of the five travelers from India who tested positive for COVID-19 upon arrival in the Philippines, only one is eligible to be sent to the genome center. As for the 12 seafarers onboard the COVID-stricken MV Athens Bridge, 11 samples will be reviewed this week.

The Philippines has imposed an entry ban until Friday, May 14, on inbound passengers who traveled to India, Nepal, Sri Lanka, Bangladesh, and Pakistan to prevent the entry of the B.1617 variant. Health Undersecretary Maria Rosario Vergeire said the variant task force has to check if cases are rising or hospitals are getting filled up due to the B.1617 before they issue a recommendation on whether the ban should be extended or expanded to cover other countries.

For Dr. Jose Rene De Grano, president of the Private Hospitals Association of the Philippines, an extension of another week would suffice to bring down average daily cases from currently 5,000 to 6,000 to the February-level of 2,000 to 3,000.

India has been recording the world's highest number of new daily COVID-19 cases in its catastrophic second wave of infections. The country's cases have soared to over 22.6 million, while more than 246,000 people have lost their lives, according to data from Johns Hopkins University. It's not yet clear how many infections have been linked to this double mutant variant

In the Philippines, De Grano said the country's private hospitals are ready in case COVID-19 infections surge again in the coming days with the entry of the India variant.

"We can probably manage it right now as long as we can control the spread of the disease. If we stick to our minimum health practice protocols then probably we'll be able to control the spread of the disease," he told CNN Philippines' The Final Word.

De Grano also said they have enough supply of oxygen tanks, facilities have been decongested for the past weeks, and there are no more patients lining up just to get a hospital bed. New supplies of medication are also expected to arrive, he added.

Based on latest government data, the country has an average of 47% bed occupancy rate. Of the total 1,270 facilities nationwide, 838 are at the safe level, 91 at moderate level, 113 at high-risk level, and 158 at critical level.