Trackers in GenSan looking for plane passengers with Indian COVID-19 variant

GENERAL SANTOS CITY (MindaNews / 12 May) – Rural health units (RHUs) in Region 12 (Soccsksargen) have launched extensive tracking for passengers of a commercial flight from Manila to this city last month who possibly had contact with a seafarer who turned out positive of the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) mutant strain from India.

Passengers board a Philippine Airlines plane at the General Santos City Airport. MindaNews file photo by BOBBY TIMONERA

The move was based on an advisory issued by the Department of Health (DOH)-Region 12 to trace the co-passengers of the returning 37-year-old male sea-based worker, who was confirmed on Tuesday to have been infected with the B.1.617.2 or Indian variant.

Celia Lorenzo, epidemiology and surveillance unit head of the South Cotabato Integrated Provincial Health Office (IPHO), said Wednesday they were advised to look for the passengers from the area of the Philippine Airlines flight last April 26.

“The call is specifically for those situated in rows 25 to 35 of the flight,” she said in a press conference.

Lorenzo said all co-passengers who will be tracked will be subjected to swab or Reverse Transcription-Polymerase Chain Reaction testing.

The testing protocol is a precautionary measure as the seafarer was already considered to have recovered when he was cleared to return home.

The DOH’s epidemiology bureau said the seafarer arrived in Manila from Oman last April 10 and was tested on April 15.

He was cleared to return home last April 26 and came out negative in RT-PCR testing on May 3 but continued his home quarantine until May 10.

Lorenzo said the DOH did not disclose the location of the seafarer but said he was “definitely not from South Cotabato” as they did not receive a memo about it.

She said the IPHO is continually monitoring the possible presence of the new COVID-19 variants in the province, in coordination with local hospitals.

A number of samples from the province were earlier sent to the University of the Philippines-Philippine Genome Center for genome sequencing.

Last month, the local government confirmed two cases of the “variants of concern” involving returning Overseas Filipino Workers but the patients, who contracted the B.1.351 or South African and P.1 or Brazilian mutant strains, have since recovered. (MindaNews)