Seaman from Kenya had Omicron, but already ‘recovered’ upon arriving in Iligan

CAGAYAN DE ORO CITY (MindaNews / 7 Jan) – Health officials here isolated the family of a returning overseas worker in Iligan City on Thursday after he was found infected of the more infectious but less severe Omicron variant of the coronavirus disease (COVID-19).

The Gregorio T. Lluch Memorial Hospital in Iligan City at the height of the Delta surge in September 2021, with the extension of its COVID-19 ward temporarily built right on a busy street. MindaNews file photo by BOBBY TIMONERA

Dr. Jasper Kent Ola, head of the Department of Health 10 Regional Epidemiology, Surveillance and Disaster Response Unit (RESDRU) said the returning overseas worker, an unvaccinated 40-year-old seaman from Kenya, arrived in Iligan City last December 30 after undergoing isolation in Cebu City.

Ola said they found four close contacts in the family of the seaman who lives in Barangay Del Carmen. Iligan City’s Emergency Operation Center Health Cluster said in its Facebook page that the seaman is from Greenhills Village in Del Carmen.

“We have isolated the family and informed them that they would have to undergo swab tests,” Ola told reporters during a press briefing on Friday.

Ola said the seaman was diagnosed as asymptomatic and health authorities in Cebu have tagged him as recovered.

He said the seaman, who took a Qatar Airways flight, was swabbed after he arrived in Cebu on December 16 and was quarantined at JPark Island Resort in Lapu-Lapu City, Cebu.

Ola said result of the swab test showed positive and the seaman, who experienced coughing and fever, was transferred to another hotel where he stayed from December 23 to 30.

“After he recovered, the seaman underwent another swab test and was tagged as recovered and asymptomatic,” Ola said.

Ola said last Jan. 7, the Philippine Genome Center informed health officials in Region 10 and Iligan City that the seaman was found to be positive of the Omicron variant.

The lone infectious disease specialist in Iligan City, Dr. Leonell Albert Quitos, said that based on the timeline, “most likely he [was already] non-infectious” by the time he arrived in Iligan “if his symptoms improved last December 30,” the 10th day since onset of symptoms.

With the Omicron variant now in the Philippines, he advised Iliganons to “be mindful of the situation” as the country has not achieved herd immunity yet.

“The increase in numbers is greater compared to the Delta surge…. Our local healthcare system may be overwhelmed again,” Quitos stressed.

At the height of the Delta surge in September 2021, Iligan City’s hospitals could not handle COVID-19 cases anymore, as in the case of the Adventist Medical Center. MindaNews file photo by BOBBY TIMONERA

He pointed out, too, that “as much as possible, all travelers must be vaccinated.”

The United States Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has noted the “high level of COVID-19 in Kenya,” classified as Level 3.

“Because of the current situation in Kenya, all travelers may be at risk for getting and spreading COVID-19 variants,” it added.

Kenya’s Ministry of Health said in a tweet that it had 2,336 new cases on Thursday (positivity rate of 22.1%), with total confirmed cases of 306,686. Kenya’s population is almost 55 million.

Meanwhile, DOH-10 Regional Director Jose Llacuna Jr. said another Omicron patient who was bound for Cagayan de Oro was held in Manila after she was found positive of the infectious variant.

Llacuna said the patient, a 20-year-old female college student from Las Vegas, is now quarantined at the Oxford Suites in Makati City.

He said the student arrived in Manila aboard an All Nippon Airways (ANA) last Dec. 27 after a brief stopover in Osaka, Japan.

“Fortunately, she was not able to board her flight to Cagayan de Oro. She is still in Manila right now,” Llacuna said.

Llacuna said the patient was supposed to go home to her family in Barangay 1, Cagayan de Oro for the holidays. (Froilan Gallardo, with reports from Bobby Timonera / MindaNews)