Coronavirus Global situation

Philippines confirms local transmission of more contagious UK variant

A man giving a saliva sample to test for Covid-19 at a laboratory in Mandaluyong City, Metro Manila, on Monday. The Philippines' caseload of more than half a million infections is one of the highest in South-east Asia.
A man giving a saliva sample to test for Covid-19 at a laboratory in Mandaluyong City, Metro Manila, on Monday. The Philippines' caseload of more than half a million infections is one of the highest in South-east Asia. PHOTO: REUTERS

MANILA • The Philippines has confirmed domestic transmission of the new, highly contagious British variant of the coronavirus, prompting President Rodrigo Duterte to abandon a plan to allow some minors to go outside their homes.

Health Undersecretary Maria Rosario Vergeire told news channel ANC yesterday: "Right now, we have local transmission where this individual or these cases with the variant have already infected their community, their family."

Citing the British variant, Mr Duterte said he had scrapped a plan to allow children aged 10 to 14 in low-risk areas to go outside their home starting Feb 1.

The Philippines has imposed some of the world's toughest restrictions to curb the spread of coronavirus infections, including internal travel bans. Since March last year, minors have been officially prohibited from leaving their home.

"I am afraid because this new strain strikes the young children," Mr Duterte said late on Monday.

"Go back to your homes... and besides, they're good just with the TV. They can glue their attention to the TV the whole day."

The Philippine government had hoped that easing restrictions on children might boost economic activity, after a year when growth is expected to have contracted 8.5 per cent to 9.5 per cent.

Acting Socioeconomic Planning Secretary Karl Kendrick Chua said this month that 50 per cent of the economy was driven by "family activities", and without them, the economy could not recover.

The Philippines' caseload of more than half a million infections is one of the highest in South-east Asia.

Mr Duterte's administration also has been criticised for its slowness in procuring Covid-19 vaccines, with the bulk of them not expected to start arriving until the second half of the year.

REUTERS, NYTIMES, AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on January 27, 2021, with the headline 'Philippines confirms local transmission of more contagious UK variant'. Subscribe