Hong Kong health officials announced on Tuesday they have detected the new variant of the coronavirus disease in a passenger returning from Manila, sparking fears that the new strain may have already spread in the Southeast Asian country.
Chuang Shuk-Kwan, who heads the Hong Kong Health Department’s communicable disease division, said at a virtual news briefing on the same day that they found the new variant in a returning female individual along with three others arriving from different countries.
According to reports, the new variant of the coronavirus, which was first found in the United Kingdom, was more contagious.
According to reports from Hong Kong News and The SUN Hong Kong, the patient was a 30-year-old Filipino domestic worker. She was aboard Philippine Airlines flight PR300 on December 22.
She was tagged by Hong Kong as patient 9003.
Commenting on the issue, the Philippine flag carrier said that the passenger presented a negative COVID-19 swab test result before boarding the flight. A negative swab result is a strict requirement for travelers to enter Hong Kong.
The carrier also shared passenger manifest information with the Philippines’ Bureau of Quarantine so as to conduct contact tracing.
Meanwhile, the Philippine Department of Health debunked claims that the new variant was already spreading in the country, saying it did not find the new variant in any of the swab results tested between November and December 2020.
It said it was coordinating with its Hong Kong counterparts to secure official notification and other relevant information about the patient.
In a news briefing on Wednesday, Health Undersecretary Maria Rosario Vergeire said that the department was able to track 40 passengers on board the PAL flight.
“[In] the line list of passengers, we were able to zero in on two individuals with a profile of 30-year-old female,” Vergeire was quoted as saying.
She added that the contact numbers of the two female passengers could not be reached.
Meanwhile, Guido David, a professor and a member of the University of the Philippines’ OCTA Research, said that the passenger may have contracted the new virus strain upon arrival.
“Maybe it was the local transmission. Maybe she got it at the Hong Kong airport. We’ll know further details,” he was quoted as saying in an interview with ABS-CBN’s Teleradyo.
“We don’t even know if the one that was detected in Hong Kong really came from the Philippines or dun lang siya nahawa (if she got infected there). We need more details,” said Dr. Edsel Salvana, an infectious disease specialist.