DOH: INTENSIFIED BIOSURVEILLANCE REINFORCES NEED FOR STRICTER BORDER CONTROL; EXPANDS TRAVEL RESTRICTIONS TO PAKISTAN, BANGLADESH, NEPAL, AND SRI LANKA

Press Release | 06 May 2021

ON GENOMIC BIOSURVEILLANCE

With the strengthened biosurveillance activities of the Department of Health (DOH), the University of the Philippines-Philippine Genome Center, and the University of the Philippines-National Institutes of Health, a total of 1,075 B.1351 variant cases (first detected in South Africa), 948 B.1.1.7 variant cases (first detected in UK), 157 P.3 variant cases (first detected in the Philippines), and 2 P.1 variant cases (first detected in Brazil) have been detected as of May 3. However, the detection of these variants of concern (VOCs) and variants under investigation (VUIs) does not mean that these variants are now the dominant variants in the country.

The DOH explains that more VOCs and VUIs are being detected in the country due to the increased genomic biosurveillance activities. DOH is also doing purposive sampling to ensure a higher likelihood of detecting the variant, which means that more samples are taken from areas, clusters, and groups of people that are likely to have these VOCs/VUIs. Hence, there is a disproportionately higher number of samples being sequenced from areas with reported clustering, increased severe and critical cases, and a bigger presence of returning overseas Filipinos (ROFs).

The DOH reiterates that the practical purpose of the genomic biosurveillance is to determine the presence of VOCs and VUIs to monitor their spread, and determine the correlation of the presence of these variants to observed case clusters and spikes, increased severity or fatality, and cases of re-infection. A thorough analysis of these data allows the government to implement more responsive strategies to mitigate the impact of the said variants.

ON TRAVELERS FROM COUNTRIES WITH B.1.617 VARIANT

Following the reports of another variant possibly causing a surge in India, the government banned travelers from India last April 27. Beginning May 7, the country will also ban passengers coming from Pakistan, Bangladesh, Nepal, and Sri Lanka or those who have been to said countries within 14 days before their travel to the Philippines.

Meanwhile, the DOH is closely monitoring all those with travel history to India prior to the imposition of the travel ban. The Bureau of Quarantine recorded 149 passengers with travel history from India from April 1-30; 129 of which are ROFs and 20 foreign nationals. All of these passengers were quarantined upon arrival and tested on the 6th or 7th day.

Among these cases, 5 tested positive for COVID 19 through RT PCR while 137 of them tested negative. Among those who tested positive, 1 is still in isolation while the disposition of the 4 patients are being verified. Samples from these positive cases are currently being determined if they are adequate for sequencing. The test results of the 7 remaining travelers are currently being verified. The DOH is now closely coordinating with LGUs and Regional Epidemiology and Surveillance Units to get further updates on the current health status of all these travelers.

With the increased detection of variants as evidenced by the results of intensified biosurveillance activities, stronger border control measures, stringent adherence to quarantine protocols for all incoming international travelers, and effectively implementing Prevent-Detect-Isolate-Treat-Reintegrate response strategies at the national and local levels are of absolute importance in preventing the local spread of these variants.

Likewise, protective measures, like strict compliance to minimum public health standards across all settings and getting vaccinated when it’s your turn, remain effective in preventing COVID-19 infection.