New COVID-19 virus variants have not been detected in the Philippines, health authorities said Wednesday after Hong Kong said one of its residents who planed in from Manila tested positive for the virus first detected in the UK.
Philippine Genome Center Executive Director Cynthia Saloma said local scientists were unable to detect new COVID-19 virus variants from the United Kingdom and South Africa in the Philippines.
"Based on the samples we analyzed, we were not able to detect this particular lineage [UK virus variant]," Saloma said in a press briefing. "We also did not detect the South African variant in the samples."
Samples analyzed were from the Cordillera Administrative Region, Southern Tagalog region or Calabarzon, Metro Manila, and SOCCSKSARGEN, she said.
The announcement comes following speculation that the UK variant--known as B117--of the SARS-CoV-2 virus is in the Philippines after Hong Kong health officials said a 30-year-old individual who flew to the Chinese territory from Manila tested positive for the said virus.
The 30-year-old arrived in Hong Kong via Philippine Airlines Flight PR 300 on Dec. 22, health officials said.
Local health authorities obtained flight records, which showed that the infected passenger was female, Department of Health spokesperson Maria Rosario Vergeire said. Contact tracing has also started for the 40 passengers on board the said flight.
Philippine Airlines on Wednesday said the infected passenger presented a negative COVID-19 test before taking the Manila to Hong Kong flight last Dec. 22.
"The presentation of a negative COVID test by arriving passengers is a requirement of the HK government," the flag carrier said.
Vergeire said Philippine health authorities have "initiated coordination" with the International Health Regulations focal point of Hong Kong for further details on the case but have yet to receive a response.
Before Christmas, the Philippines banned the entry of travelers from 21 countries including the UK, which have confirmed cases of new COVID-19 virus variants.
In light of concerns over the new virus variants, the health department reminded Filipinos to religiously observe the minimum health standards by wearing face masks and face shields and practicing physical distancing.
“Strictly following the minimum public health standards is still the best measure to cut transmission of the variant and minimize the opportunities for virus mutation,” the DOH said.