The government has not yet included China in travel restrictions because there is no confirmed report of the more contagious COVID-19 variant in that country, Malacanang said.
Presidential spokesman Harry Roque said the expanded travel ban is now 26 countries after the new COVID-19 strain was first detected in UK in December 2020 and spread to Europe, America, Africa, Middle East and Asia.
China was not yet included even after Beijing recently reported that a 23-year-old woman who arrived from the United Kingdom tested positive for the new COVID-19 strain.
Roque said the Philippines is awaiting official confirmation from reputable international agencies that would confirm if the new COVID 19 strain was detected in China.
“We will wait for the confirmation and if there’s confirmation, we will eventually include China in the list,” he said at a news conference.
Duterte has also extended the temporary suspension of flights and prohibition of entry on all travelers coming from the UK until Jan. 15, Roque said.
Filipino citizens coming from the aforementioned countries are exempted from the travel ban but must China’s state-run broadcaster CGTN on Jan. 1 reported that the new variant was detected in a female student returning from the UK.
The student was screened for COVID-19 in Shanghai on Dec. 14, the report added.
The list of countries included in the travel are: Denmark; Ireland; Japan; Australia; Israel; The Netherlands; Hong Kong; Switzerland; France; Germany; Iceland; Italy; Lebanon; Singapore; Sweden; South Korea; South Africa; Canada; Spain; United States; Portugal; India; Finland; Norway; Jordan and Brazil.
The Department of Health said the new variant has not yet been detected in the Philippines, but said the Hong Kong resident who tested positive for the new variant came from Cagayan Valley.
It was also revealed that she was tested 11 days after arriving from Manila.
Citing reports from the Hong Kong International Health Regulations National Focal Point and the local Centers for Health Development, the DOH said the 30-year-old traveler left Cagayan Valley Region on Dec. 17, 2020.
She arrived in Metro Manila on Dec. 18 and “underwent quarantine as per their workplace protocol.” Her COVID-19 test on Dec. 19 turned out negative, the DOH said.
“The case left for Hong Kong on Dec. 22, 2020 where she underwent quarantine upon arrival,” it said.
“On Jan. 2, 2021, she underwent RT-PCR testing again where the swabs tested positive and detected to also be positive for the UK variant. She remains in isolation and in stable condition,” the DOH said.
“Meanwhile, contact tracing efforts are underway. The flight manifest has been obtained and the tracing of passengers is being conducted while we await updates on the contact tracing efforts done in Hong Kong. There is also ongoing contact tracing by the concerned epidemiology and surveillance units in Cagayan Valley Region and NCR. 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 also said.
Health Secretary Francisco Duque III on Thursday said it is possible that the traveler from the Philippines who tested positive for the UK variant of coronavirus in Hong Kong might have been infected there.
“When she left, she tested negative and I think on Jan. 2, 10 days after she arrived in Hong Kong, she tested positive. So that’s 10 days between the time she left and the time she arrived in Hong Kong where she tested positive,” Duque said during an interview on ANC.
“You can readily just speculate it’s possible she might have contracted it there,” Duque said.
A member of the Inter-Agency Task Force for the Management of Emerging Infectious Diseases (IATF) said he is not ruling out the possibility that the new strain of COVID-19 is already in the Philippines.
“At this point, we haven’t detected it but we shouldn’t assume that it’s not here,” said Dr. Edsel Salvaña, a member of the IATF’s technical working group on new coronavirus variants.
“We should still take care and do prerequisite vigilance because even the original virus, even if it’s not the variant, can still cause spikes,” Salvaña said.
Meanwhile, the Philippine Overseas Employment Administration (POEA) on Thursday said it would study the possibility of suspending anew the deployment of health care workers abroad in the wake of a new coronavirus variant in other countries.
Olalia said the agency would hold consultations with concerned sectors regarding the measure.