DOH: 6 travelers from India test positive for COVID-19, 6 others being traced

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Metro Manila (CNN Philippines, May 5) — Six passengers from India have tested positive for COVID-19 when they arrived in the country before the travel ban, while the Health Department continues to locate six missing travelers.

Health Undersecretary Maria Rosario Vergeire on Wednesday said the samples of the six COVID-positive patients have been sent to the Philippine Genome Center to determine if they were carrying the B.1.617 variant first found in India.

It is unclear why six other passengers have yet to be traced if they are supposed to go straight to a government-accredited quarantine facility upon landing.

DOH said over 100 travelers from India who arrived in the country before the 15-day travel restriction was imposed on April 29 are currently under quarantine.

The agency is hopeful that even if the variant dubbed as a "double mutant" was able to reach the Philippine shores, its spread could still be controlled.

"Kailangan lang natin paigtingin ang border control, na kahit makapasok man itong mga variants na ito, dapat handa tayo," she said in a media briefing.

[Translation: We need to strengthen our border control, that even if the variants do enter, we are ready for them.]

The country has yet to record a case of the B.1.617 variant. This variant is feared as it is is a virus strain that carries two mutations. It's not yet clear how many infections have been linked to this double mutant variant, or whether the strain is any more dangerous, but India's health ministry said "such mutations confer immune escape and increased infectivity."

Former COVID-19 task force adviser Dr. Tony Leachon said the Philippine government does not have a good track record when it comes to issuing timely border controls, such as during the start of the pandemic and when variants started cropping up.

"Historically, our government has always never been proactive in border control... We should be agile and forward looking. We should be equipped with genomic surveillance centers with rapid turnaround time," he said.

Other variant cases

Meanwhile, the DOH said the "bulk" of new COVID-19 variant cases are located in Metro Manila and Calabarzon.

Vergeire said Metro Manila has recorded 602 cases of the B.1.351 variant first detected in South Africa, 358 cases of the B.1.1.7 first found in the United Kingdom, and 39 cases of the P.3 variant under investigation that has been first discovered in the Philippines.

In Calabarzon, there are 121 cases of the B.1.351 variant, 145 cases of the B.1.1.7 variant, and six cases of the P.3 variant.

The country has a total of 1,075 cases of the South Africa variant, 948 cases of the UK variant, 157 cases of the P.3 variant, and 2 cases of the variant first found in Brazil.

CNN Philippines correspondent Carolyn Bonquin contributed to this report.