THE Department of Health (DOH) warned of sanctions against close contacts of Covid-19 patients who refuse to be swabbed, noting that at least 13 of those traced as contacts of the country's first UK variant (B.1.1.7 Sars-CoV-2) case have not been answering calls.
In a virtual press briefing Friday, January 15, Health Undersecretary Maria Rosario Vergeire said identified close contacts who refuse to cooperate may be held liable for violating Republic Act 11332, or the Mandatory Reporting of Notifiable Diseases and Health Events of Public Health Concern Act.
"There is this law, RA 11332, which has a provision saying that in cases of emergency, you need to cooperate with the government, whether for quarantine, isolation, contact tracing, or testing," said Vergeire.
"And if you don't cooperate, there will be sanctions for this person, especially if they are among the close contacts and the risk of him spreading the disease is there," she added.
Vergeire was speaking in particular to the co-passengers of the 29-year-old male patient who tested positive for the B.1.1.7 Sars-CoV-2, also known as the UK variant, stressing that not all 159 close contacts of the patient have answered to the agency's calls.
"Of the 159, we were able to coordinate with 146 of them. So that is 92 percent. There are still 13 that are rejecting the calls, not answering, or wrong contact numbers provided," said Vergeire.
Of the 146 contacted, she said 125 have already been swabbed and quarantined in facilities or at their homes.
"All were swabbed with two specimens, one for genome sequencing and one for RT-PCR," she said.
To recall, the patient arrived in the Philippines from Dubai, United Arab Emirates last January 7 on board Emirates Flight EK 332.
Upon his arrival, the patient was found positive for Sars-CoV-2, the virus that causes the coronavirus disease (Covid-19), particularly of the UK variant.
Despite confirmation of the UK variant case in the country and the patient being a Filipino, the DOH said it does not see Filipino nationals being included in the travel ban.
Vergeire said this is in accordance with the policy laid down by President Rodrigo Duterte in imposing the travel restrictions.
"The President has pronounced already, no Filipino will be denied entry in the country. They will not be included in the guidelines," she said. "Definitely, all Filipinos who want to go home will be allowed entry."
She pointed out that what they will enhance is the genomic biosurveillance of the country.
"We are prioritizing genomic sequencing of inbound international Filipino travelers who tested positive using RT-PCR," said Vergeire.
Asked if a total ban for foreign nationals is being considered due to the UK variant, she said it is impractical.
"It is not feasible for us to do that. If you look at the experience of other countries, no one has implemented a total ban because of this
variant," Vergeire said.
She also said this is because developing various strains is part of the natural life cycle of viruses.
"We know that these variants, they are inevitable. It is part of the evolution of the virus," she added.
Under Resolution 24 of the Inter-Agency Task Force for the Management of Emerging Infectious Diseases (IATF), foreign travelers from over 30 countries in the world are prohibited from entering the Philippines, while Filipino travelers are required to undergo testing and facility-based quarantine for 14 days upon arrival.
The countries covered by the travel restrictions are United Kingdom, United States, Portugal, India, Finland, Norway, Jordan, Brazil, Denmark, Ireland, Japan, Australia, Israel, The Netherlands, Hong Kong, Switzerland, France, Germany, Iceland, Italy, Lebanon, Singapore, Sweden, South Korea, South Africa, Canada, Spain, Austria, China, Luxembourg, Oman, Pakistan and Jamaica.
The IATF extended the travel restrictions for another two weeks or until January 31, 2021. (HDT/SunStar Philippines)