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More samples tested for COVID-19 strain — health authorities

CORONAVIRUS samples from northern Philippines, where health authorities have observed clustering, would be checked if these are strains similar to the one first detected in the United Kingdom (UK), according to the Department of Health (DoH).

“We’ve been taking samples from areas with clustering since we started sequencing,” Health Undersecretary Maria Rosario S. Vergeire told an online briefing in Filipino on Wednesday.

Virus samples from hospitals with severe and critical cases as well as in jails would also be checked for the new strain, she added.

There were now 17 people in the Philippines with the more contagious UK variant, 12 of whom are from Bontoc, Mountain Province in the country’s north.

Ms. Vergeire said they have identified eight returning overseas Filipinos in the Cordillera Administrative Region and will get details of their swab tests to determine the source of the infection. At least 615 contacts had been traced in the region, she added.

The DoH on Monday confirmed there was a local transmission in Bontoc and clustering of cases in the town of Samoki, where 11 of the 12 cases with the new variant came from.

The clustering was reported to have begun with a returning overseas Filipino from the United Kingdom on Dec. 11 who had tested negative upon arrival.

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

Regional health authorities and local governments conducted “backward tracing exposures and travel histories of cases to identify other possible sources of infection,” DoH said, adding that it would check other returning migrant Filipinos.

Thirty-four other contacts of the traveler from the UK tested positive for the coronavirus, six of whom were negative for the new variant. The results of the remaining 28 were pending. — Vann Marlo M. Villegas

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