Hong Kong detects UK COVID-19 variant in Filipina domestic helper who arrived from Manila

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Metro Manila (CNN Philippines, January 6) — Hong Kong health officials bared on Tuesday they detected the new United Kingdom COVID-19 variant in a passenger who arrived from Manila last month.

Chuang Shuk-kwan, head of the Hong Kong Health Department’s communicable disease branch, said in a virtual briefing that they found the new variant in a 30-year-old female resident who arrived from Manila on Dec. 22 via a Philippine Airlines flight.

Hong Kong's health authorities said the woman is a Filipino domestic worker, according to the reports at least two local newspapers, Hong Kong News and The SUN Hong Kong.

The health officials tagged the Manila-outbound Hong Kong resident as case 9003.

"(Case) 9003 took PR 300 and arrived in Hong Kong on the 22nd of December from (the) Philippines," said Chuang.

The Philippine Department of Health (DOH) confirmed on Wednesday the passenger is a 30-year-old woman from Cagayan Valley.

Citing a report from the Hong Kong International Health Regulations National Focal Point and local Centers for Health Development, Philippine health authorities stated the passenger left the province on Dec. 17. The woman arrived in Metro Manila on Dec. 18 and underwent quarantine as mandated by government protocols, they added.

DOH officials said the passenger took the swab test on Dec. 19, which yielded a negative result.

Philippine Airlines said the passenger presented a negative COVID-19 test result before boarding the flight. She left the country on Dec. 22 and was subjected to another quarantine procedures upon arrival in Hong Kong.

The Filipina passenger then took another swab test on Jan. 2, where she tested positive for the UK COVID-19 variant. She remains in isolation and in stable condition, authorities said.

The DOH assured contact tracing efforts are underway to identify other passengers who boarded the same flight with the woman, including her close contacts in Cagayan Valley and Metro Manila. The airline has also shared passenger manifest information with the Philippines' Bureau of Quarantine so they could conduct contact tracing.

"They have been instructed to ensure strict quarantine of identified close contacts and for samples collected from said contacts to be sent for confirmatory testing and, if samples test positive, subsequent whole genome sequencing," the DOH said in a statement.

Aside from the passenger who returned from Manila, Hong Kong health authorities also detected three additional cases of the new COVID-19 variant in their country. Two of them arrived from London and the other one came from France.

The new COVID-19 variant was first reported in UK on Dec. 14 and believed to be more contagious, according to initial scientific studies. Based on 305 samples collected in November and December, the UK variant is not yet in the Philippines.