The Department of Health has cautioned the public against sharing of unverified information after some claims of new COVID-19 variant case detected in the country particularly in the National Capital Region.
In a statement on Monday evening, the DOH reiterated that both the agency and the Philippine Genome Center have not yet detected any new variant of COVID-19.
Both organizations have also issued the same remarks in December after cases of the new COVID-19 variant were being reported in several countries Europe and such as Japan, Singapore, the Netherlands, the United Kingdom and France.
Early this month, the United States also confirmed cases of the new COVID-19 variant.
“The Department of Health and the Philippine Genome Center, to date, have not detected the UK variant, or any new variant of SARS-COV-2 in any of the positive samples tested. The DOH and PGC are closely working together in order to intensify on-going biosurveillance efforts,” DOH said.
“The Department also calls on the public to refrain from disseminating unverified information which only serve to create panic and confusion,” it added.
The DOH did not specify the social media posts it is referring to.
New COVID-19 variant case claims
Former Survivor Philippines castaway and also a former host of “Born to be Wild” Kiko Rustia in a Twitter thread on Monday claimed that his friend tested positive for the new COVID-19 variant and is currently confined in an intensive care unit of a hospital in the country.
“I won’t go into specifics, as to protect my friend’s privacy, but just got word he is confined in the ICU with the new strain of COVID. Initial update pa lang samin to sa groups namin. Sharing this for awareness and to tell you all to take extra precautions. IT IS HERE,” Rustia said.
He also shared a screenshot of a private exchange with a person who also claimed of receiving information that there are cases of the new COVID-19 variant in Metro Manila.
Rustia later noted that his tweets are not yet verified but only for the public’s awareness.
“Please be reminded na kahit hindi pa 100% confirmed ang mga balita na to, that doesnt mean we shouldn’t take the necessary extra precautions na,” he said.
A similar circumstance
During the celebration of the Lunar New Year in January 2020, several unverified information of coronavirus cases in Manila spilled over local social media before the first case was confirmed in the Philippines.
READ: A collection of false rumors about coronavirus in the Philippines
That time, health authorities were monitoring at least 27 suspected cases in different parts of the country.
The first infection was eventually confirmed near the end of the month, on January 30. The patient was a 38-year-old woman who arrived in the country on January 21 from Wuhan in China, the ground of the newly discovered strain of coronavirus.
While some Filipinos welcomed the health department’s assurance, others expressed skepticism over it, citing the infected patient in Hong Kong who came from Manila.
Last January 6, Hong Kong health authorities reported that one of the four individuals who tested positive for the new COVID-19 variant was a resident who came from the Philippines.
She was tagged as case 9003 and arrived in Hong Kong via Philippine Airlines flight PR 300 on December 22.
READ: Hong Kong’s detection of new COVID-19 variant in passenger from Manila sparks safety, credibility concerns
Local health authorities said that they have been closely coordinating with their counterparts in Hong Kong about this infected patient.
Some users also questioned the national government’s capability to detect the new COVID-19 variant.
The DOH and PGC has so far conducted genome sequencing wherein they analyzed 305 positive samples from infected patients and compared these to the UK variant.
A Facebook user, meanwhile, described the situation in public transport where the new COVID-19 variant could have spread easily.
Even if the new variant has not yet been detected in the country, the DOH reminded the public of the importance of observing the minimum public health standards against COVID-19
“Whether or not a new variant is detected, the DOH reiterates that strict adherence to Minimum Public Health Standards is the best defense against COVID-19 and strongly urges the public to continue practicing MPHS across all settings to lower the rate of infection and reduce the risk of viral mutation,” it said.