Philippines reports first case of British variant of coronavirus

The Philippines has banned travellers from at least 30 nations, including the United States and Singapore. PHOTO: REUTERS

MANILA - The Philippines has detected its first case of a more contagious variant of the coronavirus first reported in Britain, the Health Ministry reported on Wednesday (Jan 13) night.

The British variant - officially known at VUI-202012/01 or lineage B117 - was found in a 29-year-old real estate agent living Quezon City in the capital region who went to the United Arab Emirates for business from Dec 27 to Jan 7, the ministry said in a statement.

He tested positive a day after arriving back to the Philippines from Dubai. His samples were taken for genome sequencing.

He went there with his girlfriend, but she tested negative. She is still in quarantine.

"Both… had no exposure to a confirmed case prior to their departure to Dubai nor had any travel activities outside Quezon City," the ministry said.

It said it had begun contacting all those the two had contact with, and had secured the list of passengers on board Emirates Flight EK332.

A separate statement from a task force overseeing efforts to contain the spread of Covid-19 said the couple tested negative when they left Manila and again when they arrived in Dubai.

The variant is believed to be 70 per cent more transmissible than previously circulating variants.

First detected in late September in Britain, it has spread to at least 45 countries. But it is not thought to be more deadly or cause more severe illnesses.

The Philippines has banned travellers from at least 30 nations, including the United States, China, Britain and Singapore, to prevent the spread of new variants of the coronavirus.

The Health Ministry last week reported that it did not find traces of the new variant in some 300 samples it took from patients admitted in hospitals and inbound travelers who tested positive in November and December.

Hong Kong later announced that it found the variant in a Filipino who arrived from Manila on Dec 22.

Health officials said it was unlikely she got it while in the Philippines, as she tested positive only on the second week of her quarantine in Hong Kong.

She had a negative result when she left Manila, they disclosed.

Health experts here warned that the new variant could raise the country's total coronavirus caseload 15-fold.

"With our current reproduction rate of 1.1, 20,000 cases at the beginning of the month will be about 32,000 at the end of the month. But if the variant takes over, the 20,000 cases can become almost 300,000 cases by the end of the month," Dr John Wong, of health research institution Epimetrics, told reporters.

The Philippines has tallied at least 492,700 cases of Covid-19, the second-highest in South-east Asia, after Indonesia. So far, some 9,600 have died.

The country has been struggling to secure vaccine doses for its population of over 100 million. It is hoping to receive some 50,000 out of a promised 25 million doses of a vaccine made by Chinese firm Sinovac next month (February).

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