‘New monster’: Philippines detects COVID-19 variant

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Jeddah – Yasmine El Tohamy – MANILA: President Rodrigo Duterte has warned Filipinos about a “new monster” after health authorities said the so-called UK variant of coronavirus had been detected in the country.

A few hours before the president’s address, the Department of Health and the Philippine Genome Center (PGC) confirmed that the more contagious variant was found in a 29-year-old real estate agent from Quezon City who returned to the country from a business trip to Dubai on Jan. 7.

“There’s a new monster again, and I pray to God really that this won’t be more dangerous, more toxic than the original COVID,” Duterte said in a televised meeting with Philippine health authorities.

During the meeting, Health Secretary Francisco Duque said the Filipino man who had contracted the new variant went to Dubai on Dec. 27 with his girlfriend, where both tested negative.

When they returned, they were tested at Manila’s Ninoy Aquino International Airport and the man’s results returned positive. His girlfriend’s swab test result was negative.

Duque said the patient was immediately referred to an isolation facility in Quezon City, where a chest X-ray confirmed he also had pneumonia.

To prevent the spread of the new variant, Duterte requested that everyone with whom the man came in contact be located “for their own good.” He added: “It’s important to find out who were the people they had close contact with … so there will be contact tracing.”

Those who might have been exposed are health workers at the isolation facility where the man was brought after arrival, and those who transported him there.

In light of the development, Duque told reporters on Thursday that the Department of Health will recommend that the UAE be put on the list of countries from which arrival is restricted.

The Philippines had earlier shut its borders to foreigners arriving from more than 30 countries, in a bid to keep the variant at bay. The UAE was not on the list because it had not reported the presence of the variant.

“Now we have evidence to tell them, ‘You have the UK variant now’,” Duque said. “We notified them already.”

Health Undersecretary Maria Rosario Vergeire said the UAE travel restriction follows a recommendation by Philippine experts for authorities to “buy time to analyze this case, determine other individuals affected by this variant, and prepare our healthcare system in case we see an increase in the number of cases.”

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