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Duterte recalls easing on risk of new strain

By Vann Marlo M. Villegas, Reporters
and Kyle Aristophere T. Atienza 

PRESIDENT Rodrigo R. Duterte on Monday recalled an order allowing minors as young as 10 years to go out amid a coronavirus pandemic, citing the risk of infection from a more contagious strain.

“It’s a precaution because there is a strain discovered in the Cordillera that is very similar to the one in the United Kingdom,” he said in a late televised talk. “How it got there is beyond me.”

The President said younger kids should stay home and watch TV.

The Department of Health (DoH) reported 1,173 cases on Tuesday, bringing the total to 516,166. The death toll rose by 94 to 10,386, while recoveries increased by 18 to 475,423, it said in a bulletin.

The Philippine death rate was at 2.01%, while the recovery rate was at 92.1%, it said.

There were 30,357 active cases, 84.9% of which were mild, 8.4% did not show symptoms, 3.8% were critical, 2.5% were severe and 0.5% were moderate.

Cebu City reported the highest number of new cases at 84, followed by Davao City at 67, Cavite at 51, Quezon City at 47 and Rizal at 41.

The agency said three duplicates had been removed from the tally, while 15 recovered cases were reclassified as deaths. Nine laboratories failed to submit their data on Jan. 25.

About 7.2 million Filipinos have been tested for the coronavirus as of Jan. 24, according to DoH’s tracker website.

The coronavirus has sickened more than 100.3 million and killed about 2.2 million people worldwide, according to the Worldometers website, citing various sources including data from the World Health Organization (WHO). About 72.4 million people have recovered, it said.

An inter-agency task force (IATF) on Friday relaxed the age restriction on who can go out in areas under a modified general community quarantine, saying more minors should be allowed to go out to boost consumption. Before that, only people aged 15 to 65 were allowed outside.

Few children have been sick with the coronavirus, though experts are studying whether they can be susceptible to new virus strains.

Trade Secretary Ramon M. Lopez earlier said children should be allowed to visit malls to boost consumer spending. He said some fast-food chain branches have closed due to weak demand.

Mr. Duterte in December also recalled a task force order that would have allowed pilot face-to-face classes in some areas this month.

The President renewed his call for people to follow health protocols. “The only salvation, actually, for those who have not been sickened with COVID-19 and pending the rollout of the vaccine is really that you follow the protocol imposed by the government.”

Health authorities confirmed late Monday the transmission of the UK strain in a town in northern Philippines, where 12 people have tested positive.

Thirty-four more people who had close contact with the patients have tested positive for the coronavirus, six of whom were negative for the new strain. The results of the 28 were pending.

“DoH confirms local transmission in Bontoc of the B.1.1.7 variant of SARS-CoV-2 as identified through genomic sequencing,” it said in a statement.

“To date, all identified cases with the UK variant can be epidemiologically linked to cases coming directly from outside the country (importation) or from specific cases or exposures that can still be identified (local transmission),” it added.

The agency said there was no strong evidence of community transmission, based on World Health Organization standards.

A community transmission occurs if there is an “appearance of large number of cases, occurrence of case clusters in multiple areas” and “inability to link cases to known sources of infection.”

It said clustering of cases in the village of Samoki was reported to have begun with a returning overseas Filipino from the United Kingdom on Dec. 11. The person, who tested negative on Dec. 13, traveled to Bontoc where he celebrated Christmas and attended a cultural ritual the following day.

He was tested for the coronavirus after complaining of abdominal pains and was found to have been positive. He was, however, negative for the UK variant.

A total of 46 close contacts of the traveler from the UK tested positive for coronavirus, 12 of whom were also infected with the new variant. Eleven of the 12 cases with the UK strain were from Samoki.

“While we have identified linkages of cases to the traveler from the UK, said traveler was negative for the B.1.1.7 variant and his wife was negative on PCR test,” DoH said.

“The Regional Epidemiology and Surveillance Unit (RESU) and local government unit (LGU) are currently backward tracing exposures and travel histories of cases to identify other possible sources of infection,” it added.

Health authorities said they would try to identify and interview other returning migrant Filipinos from different villages to determine their health and quarantine status.

DoH said four household members of the case with the UK variant in La Trinidad, Benguet province were positive for the coronavirus. Their samples will be submitted for sequencing to determine if they have the new variant.

It also said four co-passengers of the two Filipinos who arrived from Lebanon on Dec. 29 and who tested positive for the new variant had tested positive for the coronavirus. Their samples were being examined to know if they have the new strain.

At least 228 other passengers of the same flight were negative upon arrival, DoH said, adding that it was verifying the laboratory status of 51 other passengers and 19 flight crew members.

It was also verifying the travel history and exposure of a man from Calamba City, Laguna who was positive for the new strain.

There were now 17 confirmed infections with the UK virus strain in the Philippines. The first case was a 29-year-old man who arrived in Manila from the United Arab Emirates (UAE) on Jan. 7. He had since recovered, according to the Quezon City local government.

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