The Department of Health (DOH) said that it will recommend to impose stricter border control measures for passengers coming from the Middle East as the Philippines recorded two cases of B.1.617 variant of coronavirus.
“I will recommend that certainly, but I am in touch with our WHO (World Health Organization) country representative in the same manner that we have expanded our travel ban beyond India… Rest assured I will make that recommendation.” said Health Secretary Francisco Duque III in an interview over ABS-CBN News Channel on Wednesday, May 12.
On Tuesday, the DOH announced that the B.1.617 variant of coronavirus was detected on two returning overseas Filipinos. The two individuals came from Oman and the United Arab Emirates.
Currently, the Philippine government imposed a travel ban to inbound passengers from India, Pakistan, Nepal, Sri Lanka, and Bangladesh.
The said variant was first detected in India in October last year. Duque said that the B.1.617 coronavirus variant has already been detected in 42 countries at present.
Aside from this variant, the local health authorities earlier detected the presence of other coronavirus variants such as the B.1.1.7 first found in the United Kingdom, B.1.351 which was first detected in South Africa, P.1 that was first found in Brazil, and the P.3 that was first found here.
The Health chief said that every variant detected in the Philippines is a “cause for concern.”
“All variants are a cause for concern and so that is why it is important that we keep track of them,” he said.
“These will now help us make the necessary adjustments in terms of our five strategic pandemic response pillars: massive prevention campaign, early detection, doing active case finding, contact tracing, aggressive isolation and quarantine, and treating patients,” he added.
Duque said that there is not enough data yet on the virulence of the B.1.617 variant.
“There is not enough data to say for sure, except for increased transmissibility, I think that’s pretty much given. But in terms of virulence or the gravity of the infection, there’s not much data as of now. The response will always be intensified compliance with minimum public health standards,” he said.
The Health chief said that the Philippines must learn from the COVID-19 situation in India, wherein a huge spike of cases is being reported daily.
“It might be too presumptuous of me to say na hindi iyan mangyayari sa atin (that it will not happen to us). We have to be really extra careful knowing what is happening in India…This is really something that all countries must learn from,” he said.
“I think what we have done so far— we’ve seen a downward trend in the number of cases and we are quite optimistic about the downward trend and hopefully we can sustain this. This cannot be done without everyone’s cooperation, everybody has a role to play here—both at the individual and community level,” he added.