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OFW with coronavirus variant is from Cagayan Valley, says DOH

07 January 2021

By Daisy CL Mandap

The Filipina tested negative in Manila and on arrival in HK, but positive while in quarantine (File) 

The Department of Health in the Philippines has confirmed the personal details of the Filipina domestic worker who was found with the highly infectious variant of the coronavirus 12 days after arriving in Hong Kong.

Citing a report from the HK International Health Regulations National Focal Point and the Philippines’ Centers for Health Development, DOH said the 30-year-old OFW from Cagayan Valley tested negative for Covid-19 before leaving Manila, and again on arrival in Hong Kong.

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But she developed symptoms on Dec 28 while in quarantine at Ramada Grand View Hotel in Sai Ying Pun, and was found infected after her second test in Hong Kong on Jan. 2.

She was added in the list of infected patients on Jan. 4, and was tagged as case no 9003 when reported the next day.

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The DOH report says the Filipina left her hometown in Cagayan Valley for Manila on Dec 17, then got tested for Covid-19 two days later as part of the pre-flight requirements for passengers bound for Hong Kong. She tested negative.

She left for Hong Kong aboard Philippine Airlines flight 300 on Dec 22, and in line with the city’s health protocols, got tested for Covid-19, which again yielded a negative result.

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"On January 2, 2021, she underwent RT-PCR testing again where the swabs tested positive and detected to also be positive for the UK variant," the DOH said.

The department said the patient “remains in isolation and in stable condition.”

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It did not mention the visa status of the patient, but staff at Hong Kong's Centre for Health Protection staff told The SUN on Jan 5 that she is a domestic helper.

Contact tracing of all the 39 other passengers who flew with her to Hong Kong has begun. Her close contacts in Cagayan Valley and Metro Manila are also being identified by DOH surveillance units.

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"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 department said.

Earlier, the DOH said there was another 30-year-old female passenger on the flight, which made it difficult for them to pinpoint immediately who the infected patient was.

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Health Undersecretary Maria Rosario Vergeire also said that the phone numbers of both patients that were listed with PAL could not be reached.

The Filipina was among 15 newly arrived travelers in Hong Kong found to have the  infectious strain first seen in Britain. Thirteen of them flew in from London, while a fourth was from France.

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Her case was classified as "imported." Despite this, the DOH has maintained that the new variant, said to be 15 times more infectious than the common strain, had not reached Philippine shores yet. 

On Wednesday, the Philippine Genome Center reported that none of the 305 confirmed patients it tested had the new variant.

Duque says it's possible the Filipina was infected in HK

And in a news conference today, Health Secretary Francisco Duque III said it was possible the Filipina caught the virus in Hong Kong as there were 10 days between the day she tested negative on arrival on Dec 22, and when she was found positive on Jan 2.

“So that’s 10 days in between from the time she left and then the time she arrived in Hong Kong when she tested positive. So you can readily just speculate that it’s possible she might have contracted it there,” he added.

The health official did not, however, note that the Filipina had little interaction with people here, as she was immediately put in isolation after arrival, in line with strict Hong Kong health protocols.

Consul General Raly Tejada says he has contacted Hong Kong Health Secretary Sophia Chan directly to ask for more information about the case, saying the Philippines needs to know how or where the patient might have acquired the variant. Dr Chan reportedly gave assurance that she would provide the information requested.

Meanwhile, Presidential Spokesperson Harry Roque has said that the ban imposed on foreigners flying into the country from 21 states where cases with the variant had been found, could be lifted after Jan. 15.

The ban did not include Filipinos, who are, however, required to spend 14 days’ quarantine in a government-designated facility after testing negative for Covid-19 on arrival in Manila.

Aside from Britain and Hong Kong, the list also includes the United States.

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