Passenger with new COVID variant possibly got infected in HK, says Duque

Health Secretary Francisco Duque (center). Photo: Duque/Twitter
Health Secretary Francisco Duque (center). Photo: Duque/Twitter

The woman who visited the Philippines and tested positive for the new COVID-19 variant upon arrival in Hong Kong could not have been infected here in the country, Health Secretary Francisco Duque said today.

In an interview with Headstart, Duque said that she could have gotten the new variant, called  B.1.1.7, in Hong Kong.

Read: PH gov’t says new COVID strain still undetected after HK finds variant in Manila passenger

“When she left [Manila], she tested negative and I think on January 2, 10 days after she arrived in Hong Kong, she tested positive. So that’s 10 days between from the time she left and the time she arrived in Hong Kong where she tested positive,” Duque said.

“So you can readily just speculate it’s possible she might have contracted it there [in Hong Kong],” the controversial health secretary added.

Hong Kong officials reported earlier this week that it detected B.1.1.7 in a passenger who arrived from Manila on Philippine Airlines’ flight PR300 on December 22. The airline said that the passenger presented a negative swab test result before leaving Manila.

Duque insisted that as of today, B.1.1.7, which is said to be more transmissible than the older variant, remains undetected in the Philippines.

“Given the results of the genomic sequencing found by the Philippine Genome Center, it’s still not here. What they saw is the usual dominant variant which is the D614G,” he said.

However, he admitted that he doesn’t know if the new variant has infected Filipinos who have not been tested for COVID-19. Critics have said that the government does not test enough to determine the full extent of COVID-19 infection in the Philippines.

Read: Janssen to conduct PH clinical trials for COVID vax in 5 sites

“We don’t know that. It’s hard to speculate,” he said.

Duque said that the arrival of the new variant in the Philippines is “not a question of if but a question of when,” which is why the government is supposedly strengthening its healthcare infrastructure.

“We’re really preparing for it. That’s why we’re ramping up our health systems capacity, isolation quarantine facilities, and of course our bio-surveillance capacities,” he said.

The Philippines has banned foreign travelers from 20 countries, including the United Kingdom, to prevent the spread of the new variant, which could possibly be up to 70% more transmissible. The Duterte government’s flight ban is scheduled to expire on Jan. 15.

The country has the second-highest number of COVID-19 cases in Southeast Asia, with 480,737 recorded as of yesterday. This includes 9,347 deaths and 448,700 recoveries.

The Philippines has yet to receive any COVID vaccine while neighboring countries Singapore and Indonesia — which has the highest number of coronavirus cases in Southeast Asia—have already received vials of the much-needed drug last month.


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