By Vann Marlo M. Villegas, Reporter
PHILIPPINE Health authorities on Monday said they have not detected a new coronavirus strain similar to a rapidly spreading variant that has caused cases to soar in the United Kingdom.
Europe has closed its doors to British travelers after the UK tightened its COVID-19 restrictions for London and nearby areas, and reversed plans to relax restrictions during the Christmas holiday.
The Department of Health (DoH) did not see the need to impose a similar ban on British diplomats and investors who are allowed to come here, but the government would boost monitoring to prevent the virus from entering, Health Undersecretary Maria Rosario S. Vergeire told an online news briefing.
“I don’t think that that would be required at this point,” she said, adding that Philippine ports were being monitored through virus tests and quarantines.
Ms. Vergeire noted that only diplomats and foreign investors are allowed to enter the country now.
British Prime Minister Boris Johnson on Saturday said the new strain had led to spiraling infection numbers.
France said it would bar all people coming from the UK for 48 hours from Sunday night, including freight carriers, whether by road, air, sea or rail, according to a Reuters report.
Germany, Italy and the Netherlands suspended flights from Britain, while Ireland said it would restrict flights and ferries from its neighbor, it said.
Belgium said it would close its borders to flights and trains — including the popular Eurostar service — coming from the UK.
A Philippine inter-agency task force (IATF) allowed the entry of foreign investors starting Nov. 1 as long as they get quarantined.
DoH reported 1,721 coronavirus infections on Monday, bringing the total to 461,505.
The death toll rose by 10 to 8,957, while recoveries increased by 82 to 429,207, it said in a bulletin.
There were 23,341 active cases, 82.2% of which were mild, 8.5% did not show symptoms, 5.9% were critical, 3% were severe and 0.34% were moderate.
Davao City reported the highest number of new cases at 151, followed by Quezon City at 142, Rizal at 85, Laguna at 81 and Manila at 77.
Five duplicates had been removed from the tally, while four recovered cases were reclassified as deaths, DoH said. Five laboratories failed to submit their data on Dec. 20.
The Philippine government and Serum Institute of India Ptv. Ltd. are in talks for the supply of 30 million doses of coronavirus vaccine Covovax, the Indian drugmaker said in a statement on Sunday.
The vaccine could become available in the third quarter of next year, once a supply agreement is reached, it said.
The private sector, the government, and UK-based drug maker AstraZeneca Plc have signed a deal for the purchase of 2.6 million doses of vaccines, expected to arrive as early as May.
Vaccine czar Carlito G. Galvez, Jr. last week said the government was expecting to finalize a procurement deal for vaccines with Chinese drug maker Sinovac Biotech Ltd., targeted to be delivered in March.
Europe last week became the first region in the world to exceed 500,000 deaths from the coronavirus since the pandemic started a year ago.
Scientists first discovered the new strain, which they said is 70% more infections, in a patient in September.
The coronavirus has sickened about 77.2 million and killed 1.7 million people worldwide since the outbreak emerged in China in December last year, according to the Worldometers website, citing various sources including data from the World Health Organization (WHO).
About 54.1 million people have recovered, it said.
The number of coronavirus cases in Britain surged by 35,928 on Sunday, the highest daily rise since the start of the pandemic. It posted 326 deaths, taking the total tally to more than 67,000.