MANILA – The immediate detection of the UK variant of SARS-CoV-2 in the country is the result of a robust genomic biosurveillance system to identify genetic variations of the coronavirus, health experts said Thursday.

In a media briefing, Dr. Anna Ong-Lim, an expert-member of the Department of Health (DOH) technical working group focusing on new coronavirus variants, said the detection is a reassurance that the systems put in place are working.

"Nakita natin dahil nasunod ang protocols simula nag-start concern ng UK variant, itong traveler na 'from di kasama ng travel restrictions (UAE) ay ating nalaman na meron palang infection and ang karapat-dapat na interventions ay nagawa (Because the protocols were observed when the concern on the UK variant started the traveler who wasn't included in the travel restrictions and we learned there's an infection and the proper interventions to be made) in a very timely fashion," Ong-Lim said.

Ong-Lim was referring to the male patient confirmed to have the B.1.1.7. SARS-CoV-2 variant. He arrived from the United Arab Emirates on Jan. 7 and yielded positive genome sequencing results, as confirmed by the Philippine Genome Center (PGC) and the DOH on Wednesday.

The patient, a resident of Quezon City, left for Dubai on Dec. 27, 2020 for a business trip and arrived in the Philippines last Jan. 7 via Emirates Flight No. EK 332.

READ: QC closely monitoring 1st UK variant case

Dr. Eva Maria Cutiongco de la Paz, also a member of DOH-TAG, said the protocols earlier set in place have been crucial in the detection of the UK variant.

Among others, she cited tighter border control and cohesive work among government agencies in responding to the health crisis.

"Naging mas mahigpit ang border control, nagtulong-tulong ang iba't ibang sangay ng gobiyerno upang magbigay solusyon sa testing and quarantine measures, tuloy-tuloy ang paalala sa (There has been stricter border control, different government agencies have coordinated to provide solutions on the testing and quarantine measures, there's a continuous reminder on the observance of) minimum health standards," she said.

With the UK variant now in the country, Dr. Marissa Alejandria, another expert-member of the DOH-TAG, urged the public not to panic, but to cooperate so as to limit the spread of the virus.

"Hindi natin kailangan mag-panic o matakot sa balitang ito na meron tayong na-detect na UK variant sa ating bansa. Bagkus pinapakita nito na maganda ang ating surveillance system, na-pick up natin agad ang bagong variant (We don't have to panic now that the UK variant is here. This shows that our surveillance system is working well as we were able to detect the new variant)," she said.

"We've been saying the mode of transmission and symptoms are the same. The measures which need to be implemented are the same, nothing to add, we need to implement them consistently," she added.

The PGC is equipped for sequencing the whole viral genome from samples collected from patients who are possibly infected with the coronavirus. 

The spread of the new variant, first detected in the United Kingdom, across the globe prompted the Philippine government to issue a travel ban to other countries that have reported similar cases. (PNA)