PH suspends flights from UK over mutant coronavirus strain

Published December 23, 2020, 9:11 AM

by Argyll Cyrus Geducos and Analou De Vera

The Philippines has ordered the temporary suspension of flights from the United Kingdom (UK) starting December 24 following reports of a new variant of COVID-19 known as B.1.1.7 spreading across the European nation.

Presidential Spokesperson Harry Roque

Presidential spokesman Harry Roque said in a statement that President Duterte approved suspending flights from the UK starting December 24 until the end of the year.

All passengers who have been in the UK within 14 days immediately preceding arrival to the Philippines, including those merely in transit, are also temporarily restricted from entering the country during the same period.

Passengers already in transit from the UK and all those who have been to the UK within 14 days immediately preceding arrival to the Philippines, who arrive before December 24, 2020, shall not be subject to entry restriction but they will be required to undergo stricter quarantine and testing protocols.

“We will only allow the entry of passengers who are already in transit to the country, provided that they arrive before 12:01 a.m. of 24 December 2020, and that they shall be required to undergo mandatory completion of the 14-day quarantine at the Athlete’s Village in New Clark City regardless of RT-PCR test results,” said DOH Secretary Francisco Duque III during an online forum on Wednesday.

Roque said outbound travel to the UK shall likewise be subject to the existing exit protocols of the Philippines and the UK.

Duque said that the Philippine Genome Center was tasked to conduct a study regarding this new strain of COVID-19 together with the Research Institute for Tropical Medicine (RITM) and the University of the Philippines-
National Institutes of Health (UP-NIH).

“We are confident that they would be able to give us a more detailed characterization of the said new strain,” said Duque.

Faster transmission rate

“What we know is its transmission rate is higher by 0.4 percent, so it’s a much faster strain of the virus but no evidence to show that it has increased the severity or the virulence nor it is affecting vaccine efficacy,” he added.

Duque said that the new variant of the coronavirus has not yet been detected in the Philippines.

“Wala. Wala po tayong ganoon. Hopefully hindi magkakaroon (None. We do not have that yet. Hopefully, there would not be),” he said.

“We have witnessed what a spike in cases meant to us – the extensive lockdowns and how it has affected our families, our healthcare workers, the small businesses and large enterprises alike. We do not want that to happen again,” he added.

The World Health Organization (WHO) reported that the seemingly more contagious strain or variant was identified in southeastern England as early as September prompting health officials in the UK to impose stricter limits on movement and public spaces.

Over the weekend, British Prime Minister Boris Johnson said that the new COVID-19 strain could be up to 70 percent more transmissible. Britain reported 27,052 new COVID-19 cases on Saturday.