a group of people standing in a room: 71 contacts of variant cases in Bontoc positive for COVID-19 © Municipality of Bontoc, Mountain Province 71 contacts of variant cases in Bontoc positive for COVID-19

MANILA, Philippines — The Department of Health (DOH) reported yesterday that 71 close contacts of 12 United Kingdom variant cases in Bontoc, Mountain Province have tested positive for COVID-19.

According to DOH Undersecretary Maria Rosario Vergeire, 410 people who came in contact with the 12 UK variant cases have already been traced.

Of these 410 contacts, 71 tested positive for COVID-19, 197 yielded negative results, 88 have not been screened yet, while results of 42?individuals have not been released.

“We sat down with the Regional Epidemiology Surveillance Unit and local officials of Bontoc and we removed duplicates in the lists,” she said.

Vergeire also noted that as of Jan. 27, eight positive swab specimens were sent to the Philippine Genome Center (PGC) for genome sequencing to determine if they have the UK variant. Results of genome sequencing are not yet out.

For the UK variant case in La Trinidad, Benguet, 37 contacts have been reached; five were found infected with COVID-19.?Two of the five swab samples were also submitted to the PGC for genome sequencing.

Only a few samples were sent to PGC for genome sequencing as not all specimens met the standards. To be sent for sequencing, a sample must be positive for COVID-19 and have high viral load of less than 30 cycle threshold (CT) values.

Case closed

Vergeire also said that the 29-year-old Filipino male who became the country’s index case for the UK variant is now considered “case closed.”

She maintained that all of the possible contacts of the index case have already been contacted, tested, quarantined and monitored after the isolation period.

The index case had traveled to Dubai with his girlfriend on Dec. 22, 2020 and returned to the country last Jan. 7, when he was found positive for the UK variant after testing.

Advanced order of reagents

Amid the global shortage of genome sequencing reagents, the DOH said that government is now making an advance order that is good for six months to prevent delays in tests done by the PGC.

“Instead of just procuring two or three months’ worth of supply, we are now going to procure or have this order for about six months. So that we can be assured that for the next six months, we will have these reagents,” she said.

Vergeire added the country gets reagents from Singapore but it is also eyeing suppliers in the United States to ensure continuing supply.

Last Saturday, the DOH announced that PGC was able to sequence only 48 swab specimens because of lack of reagents. All samples tested negative for B.1.1.7 or the UK variant. Reagents arrived Sunday night and were at the Bureau of Customs as of press time.

PGC’s “big machine” for genome sequencing can process 750 samples per run. The PGC and the University of the Philippines-National Institute of Health (UP-NIH) have decided to set up a “smaller machine” that can sequence only 48 samples per process.

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