Three barangays in Bontoc, Mountain Province were placed under Enhanced Community Quarantine level lockdown following the confirmation of the UK strain of COVID-19 in 12 positive cases in the municipality.
The lockdown, which takes effect today (Monday) until Jan. 31, covers Brgys. Bontoc Ili, Caluttit, and Poblacion.
Mountain Province Gov. Bonifacio Lacwasan Jr. also suspended work in majority of the offices of the provincial government.
"The extended suspension of work and other suitable work arrangements will help ensure that lesser number of personnel will be exposed to the contagion. It is hoped that with the strict observance of physical distancing among workers, the chain of infection will be broken," Lacwasan said.
Department of Health - Cordillera Administrative Region director Ruby Constantino said the DOH is lookinh at placing the entire region under a stricter quarantine level amid rising cases of COVID-19, one of which was the mayor of Bontoc.
Constantino said the Inter-Agency Task Force for the Management of Emerging Infectious Diseases (IATF) wanted to raise the region's quarantine classification to a general community quarantine, which is stricter than the current modified GCQ.
During the national IATF meeting on Jan. 20, the DOH-CAR reported the region was at a "high risk" epidemic level as it recorded a two-week growth rate of 199 percent, and an average daily attack rate per 100,000 population of 8.32.
The DOH report also showed there were 16 local government units in the region classified as critical epidemic areas due to the high number of cases.
These are the towns of Besao, Bontoc, Sabangan, and Sadanga in the Mountain Province; Balbalan, Lubuagan, Pasil, Rizal, Tanudan, and Tabuk City in Kalinga; Atok, Itogon, Kapangan, Mankayan in Benguet; and Hungduan and Kiangan in Ifugao province.
The DOH-CAR reported that Mountain Province is the only province nationwide categorized under the critical category.
The mayor of Bontoc town in Mountain Province said Saturday he has contracted the illness.
Mayor Franklin Odsey said he was asymptomatic and in isolation after he was informed last Jan. 15 that he tested positive for COVID-19.
Twelve people in Bontoc have been infected by the UK variant, prompting the local government to impose a lockdown until Jan. 31 in Barangay Samoki.
A one-week lockdown was enforced on Barangays Bontoc Ili, Caluttit and Poblacion until Jan. 24t Odsey said in his statement.
The stricter quarantine measures may be extended in the affected areas, he added.
Also over the weekend, the DOH said the so-called UK variant of the coronavirus had been detected as early as December 2020, at a time when it was not even considered a new variant.
At a virtual briefing on Saturday, DOH Epidemiology Bureau director Alethea de Guzman said that of the 16 new cases detected with the B.1.1.7 variant of the SARS-COV-2, the virus which causes COVID-19, one sample was collected on Dec. 10, 2020.
This was days before British scientists first reported the mutation to the World Health Organization.
The Health official said the sample was collected from a 23-year-old male patient from Laguna.
Despite this, the DOH only announced that the UK variant has been detected in the Philippines on Jan. 13, 2021 from a male resident of Quezon City who left for Dubai on Dec. 27 for business and returned to the country on Jan. 7 aboard an Emirates flight.
Dr. Edsel Salvana, director of the Institute of Molecular Biology and Biotechnology of the UP National Institutes of Health, said that the Dec. 10 sample was part of those which were archived for backtracking for the then unknown variant.
Salvana, a member of the DOH’s technical advisory group on COVID-19 variants, said at the time when the sample was collected it was still not yet considered as the “UK variant.”
The DOH, late Friday, disclosed that there are now 17 cases of COVID-19 who have the UK variant in the Philippines.
Of the additional 16 cases, three have recovered while 13 are still active. Of the 13 active cases, three are asymptomatic while the remaining 10 have mild symptoms.
The B.1.1.7 variant of the novel coronavirus, first detected in the United Kingdom, has been found to be more infectious but does not make the disease more severe.
Twelve of the 16 additional cases are from Bontoc in the Mountain Province, two are Filipino workers returning from Lebanon, two are from La Trinidad in Benguet and Calamba in Laguna.
The DOH said that out of the 12 cases in Bontoc, seven are male and five are female. Three are aged below 18 and another three are above 60.
Despite these cases, the director of the Research Institute for Tropical Medicine (RITM), Dr. Celia Carlos, said it was premature to conclue there was local transmission of the new variant.
Carlos said there are standards laid down by experts to determine if there has been local transmission, but added they have to wait for the results of the investigation.
"Considering that investigation is ongoing it may be premature to say whether there’s an ongoing community transmission," Carlos said.
Among the standards, Carlos said, is the detection of a large number of cases not linkable through transmission chains, a large number of cases from several sides "if there is an existing surveillance," and multiple unrelated clusters in several areas of the country.
Salvana, a member of the Department of Health's Technical Advisory Group, agreed.
"Right now there is no evidence of that (community transmission),” he said.
On Sunday, Quezon City Mayor Joy Belmonte ordered stricter security measures in hotels serving as quarantine facilities for returning Filipino workers who have arrived from countries with known cases of B117 variant or high levels of COVID-19 community transmission.
She called on the Quezon City Police District to study the possibility of assigning police officers outside those hotels to ensure that everyone complies with the 14-day quarantine period.
"Now that the Department of Health confirmed the presence of the new strain in several places of the country, the more we need to double our efforts in preventing the spread of the virus. If need be, we can tap our police officers to man these hotels so we can prevent returning Filipinos from leaving without finishing the government-mandated quarantine period," she said.
She vowed to intensify its inspection of hotels and other establishments to monitor their adherence to health and safety protocols.
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