13 contacts of Filipino with UK variant test positive for COVID-19

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Metro Manila (CNN Philippines, January 20) — Thirteen people who came in contact with the Philippines' first known coronavirus case with the new, more transmissible variant have tested positive for COVID-19, the Department of Health said on Wednesday. The list includes co-passengers, household members, and a frontliner who attended to the patient.

A total of 10 passengers on board the flight with the 29-year-old Filipino detected with the UK variant tested positive for coronavirus. Eight of them — who are all Filipinos — tested positive upon arrival in Manila on Jan. 7, while two passengers tested negative upon return to the Philippines but later received a positive result from a swab test.

Health Spokesperson Maria Rosario Vergeire said the samples of the infected passengers will be sent to the the Philippine Genome Center to check if they have the B.1.1.7 SARS-CoV-2 variant first detected in the United Kingdom.

Of the 159 passengers on the Emirates EK332 flight from Dubai to Manila, 153 are in isolation. In addition, two have been contacted but not yet isolated, while four other passengers have yet to be reached by authorities for contact tracing.

The patient's mother and girlfriend, meanwhile, also tested positive for COVID-19. The girlfriend, who traveled with the patient, tested negative for the virus upon their arrival in Manila on Jan 7. Health officials, however, conducted on her another swab test as a precautionary measure.

"Ang girlfriend niya initially tested negative. Pero noong nag-reswab tayo, she turned positive. The mother, noong na-swab siya, ang resulta niya rin ay positive. So pinadala na rin for sequencing ang kanilang specimen," Vergeire said in a media forum.

[Translation: His girlfriend initially tested, but turned positive after undergoing another swab test. The mother also tested positive. We have sent their specimen for sequencing.]

A healthcare worker from Quezon City who attended to the patient also got infected with COVID-19, DOH said in a separate statement. Vergeire said the frontliner could be recovering from the disease after contracting the virus back in December, adding the RT-PCR test may have picked up remnants of the virus. Nevertheless, her samples were sent to the genome center, but she will not take another swab test.

Samples to be reviewed to detect new variant

The health official said there are some issues with the samples of the 8 passengers and the mother because they have high Cycle Threshold value or CT value, which indicates a person has a low viral load. The genome center can produce more accurate results if the CT value is below 30, Vergeire said. These patients will be swabbed anew to ensure that samples are optimal for genome sequencing.

"Kapag ang CT value is more than 30, most often than not, hindi siya kayang i-process ng genome sequencing. Kaya ang more than 30, pinapa-reswab namin para matignan natin talaga at ma-verify if positive siya," she said.

[Translation: If the CT value is more than 30, more often than not, it cannot be processed for genome sequencing. If it's more than 30, we will ask them to be swabbed again so we can verify if they are positive for COVID-19.]

The results for the third batch of review from the Philippine Genome Center will be available this week, DOH said.

The patient with the UK variant is in stable condition and nearing the end of his mandatory quarantine, Vergeire said. The patient was immediately placed in a facility-based quarantine center upon arrival in the country.

Coronavirus cases in the Philippines reached 505,939 on Wednesday, while the death toll has reached 10,042.