PH detects COVID-19 UK variant

Maris Federez   •   January 13, 2021   •   312

MANILA, Philippines — The Department of Health (DOH) and the Philippine Genome Center (PGC) officially confirmed the detection of the B.1.1.7. SARS-CoV-2 variant (UK variant) in the country.

This, after samples from a Filipino who arrived from the United Arab Emirates (UAE) on January 7 yielded positive genome sequencing results, according to a DOH press release Wednesday (January 13) following strengthened biosurveillance and border control efforts of the two agencies.

The advisory said the patient is a male resident of Quezon City who departed for Dubai on December 27, 2020 for business purposes and arrived in the Philippines last January 7, 2021 via Emirates Flight No. EK 332.

After the positive was released, the patient was referred to a quarantine facility in Quezon City while his samples were sent to PGC for whole genome sequencing.

He was also accompanied by his female partner during his trip, but she tested negative for SARS-CoV-2 upon arrival. She, however, is currently under strict quarantine and monitoring.

The DOH said the two had no exposure to a confirmed case prior to their departure to Dubai nor had any travel activities outside Quezon City.

The health department immediately conducted contact tracing, in close coordination with the QC government. Contact tracers reported that the initially identified contacts are asymptomatic and currently under strict home quarantine.

The DOH said that they are continually working closely with the QC LGU to ensure that timely and effective measures are in place to mitigate transmission.

The agency has also secured the flight manifest of Emirates Flight No. EK 332 and contact tracing of other passengers is now underway.

Health authorities advise those who were aboard the said flight to get in touch with their Barangay Health Emergency Response Teams (BHERTs).

Meanwhile, the health department said that it will intensify the weekly genomic biosurveillance among incoming passengers, local cases, re-infected patients, and those with reported clustering of cases.

The DOH said it has also coordinated with the Department of Interior and Local Government for the expansion of contact tracing to include third-generation close contacts for known B.1.1.7 cases. All close contacts of confirmed B.1.1.7 cases shall also undergo strict 14-day facility-based quarantine, the advisory said.

The DOH is reiterating its call to national government agencies, local government units and the public for stricter observance of the minimum public health standards and stricter implementation of quarantine protocols to further mitigate the risk of acquiring the virus and slow down possible mutations.

EUA on Pfizer vaccine won’t be revoked yet despite Norway deaths, DOH says

Robie de Guzman   •   January 18, 2021

MANILA, Philippines — The emergency use authorization (EUA) issued last week by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to drug-maker Pfizer-BioNTech for its COVID-19 vaccine will not be revoked yet pending an investigation into claims that it caused the death of some elderly people in Norway, the Department of Health (DOH) said Monday.

Health Undersecretary Maria Rosario Vergeire said Norwegian authorities are still looking into reports that 23 individuals aged 75 to 80 with underlying health conditions died after getting inoculated with COVID-19 vaccine developed by Pfizer-BioNTech.

Vergeire also said that studies need to be done on the matter.

“Pfizer has to submit a report to the Philippine Food And Drug Administration regarding this matter. Once we evaluate the report, base sa kanilang conclusion, that’s the time FDA can decide on the EUA of Pfizer. For now,” Vergeire said.

“Hanggang wala pang sufficient evidence that it was caused by vaccines, status quo tayo on this EUA given to Pfizer,” she added.

The FDA granted EUA to Pfizer last January 14, the first out of four applications it received so far. Other applications are AstraZeneca, China’s Sinovac, and Russia’s Gamaleya Institute.

FDA Director-General Eric Domingo said they are still awaiting a report from Norwegian authorities and that they will “revise the conditions of the EUA as needed,” before starting vaccinations as part of the agency’s protocols on the use of vaccines.

Health authorities also reiterated that COVID-19 vaccines will go through stringent evaluation before it can be approved for use in the country.

“Aside from the safety, and the efficacy na meron ang mga bakuna na papasok, titingnan din nila iyon pong social impact nito, titingnan nila ang affordability and titingnan nila sa response ng equity,” Vergeire said.

“They will be evaluating and then they give their recommendation to the Secretary. Kapag positive ang recommendation, we can procure the specific vaccine,” she added. – RRD (with details from Correspondent Aiko Miguel)

‘Tantamount to discrimination’: Belmonte denounces Arayat LGU move to ban entry of QC residents

Robie de Guzman   •   January 18, 2021

MANILA, Philippines – Quezon City Mayor Joy Belmonte on Monday denounced the decision of the local government of Arayat, Pampanga to restrict the entry of the city’s residents into the municipality following reports that a resident from QC tested positive for the UK COVID-19 variant after traveling overseas.

In a statement, Belmonte called the local government’s decision ‘totally without basis’ and is ‘tantamount to discrimination’.

“We strongly denounce the Arayat local government’s decision to restrict the entry of Quezon City residents to their municipality, because this decision is totally without basis, can cause undue panic, and is tantamount to discrimination,” she said.

Belmonte pointed out that the patient did not set foot in Quezon City after arriving from Dubai on January 7 when he was tested and that he stayed in a facility as part of the 14-day mandatory quarantine period.

“The day after, it was confirmed he was COVID-19 positive. His sample was sent to the Philippine Genome Center. On the night of January 13, the city government and the city health department were informed by the DOH that he has the so-called United Kingdom variant. Since January 8, he has been staying at a facility where he remains up to this day for treatment,” she said.

The Department of Health (DOH) earlier reported that the patient traveled to Dubai on December 27 and returned to the country on January 7. His female companion tested negative for the virus but is also under quarantine and strict monitoring.

The DOH added that both had no exposure to a confirmed case before leaving the country.

Belmonte likewise emphasized that a total of 143 individuals, who are considered contacts of the patient have been identified, quarantined, and are closely being monitored.

“Among them are more than 30 healthcare workers and barangay workers who assisted and cared for the patient when he was transferred from the quarantine hotel in Manila to the isolation facility in Quezon City after he was tested positive for the virus,” she said.

Belmonte then appealed to the Arayat LGU to “reconsider its earlier order and allow QC residents to enter its jurisdiction.”

The Arayat LGU has yet to respond to Belmonte’s statement.

Vaccine prices circulating online not negotiated prices, DOH clarifies

Robie de Guzman   •   January 18, 2021

MANILA, Philippines – The Department of Health (DOH) on Monday clarified that the prices of novel coronavirus disease (COVID-19) vaccine circulating online were indicative market prices based on the rates published by manufacturers and not the negotiated prices with the Philippine government.

In a statement, the DOH said the prices were generated for the purpose of estimating the proposed budget for the procurement of the vaccine.

The department issued the clarification in response to a price list released by a senator during the Senate’s hearing on the government’s COVID-19 vaccination program.

The price list showed that total prices for two doses of Moderna cost P3,904 – P4,504; Sinovac, P3,629.50; Pfizer, P2,379; Gamaleya, P1,220; COVAX Facility, P854; AstraZeneca, P610; and Novavax, P366.

“These are not, in any way, the negotiated prices that the government and the manufacturer agreed on,” it said.

The DOH then urged the public to “trust and respect the process that the country, through vaccine czar Secretary Carlito Galvez, is undertaking to ensure that Filipinos are afforded the best vaccines at the most ideal prices.”

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