A passenger traveling from Manila back to Hong Kong tested positive for the UK strain of COVID-19, according to HK health authorities.
A resident of Hong Kong, the 30-year-old female passenger flew from Manila on Dec. 22, 2020 via Philippine Airlines (PR 300), according to Chuang Shuk-kwan, head of the communicable disease branch of Hong Kong's health department in a briefing on Jan. 5.
The passenger from Manila was tagged Case 9003.
Asia Times reported that a total of 15 people in Hong Kong have been found to carry the new strain, which is said to be 70% more contagious than the COVID strain that originated from Wuhan, China in January 2020.
The new strain was discovered in passengers from the UK, the Philippines and France starting Dec. 13, 2020. The city has retested passengers arriving from the UK since early December.
Philippine Health Undersecretary Maria Rosario Vergeire said today they are requesting Hong Kong officials for more information on the case, adding that the Department of Health (DOH) is coordinating with health officials in Hong Kong.
In a press briefing later today, she said the passenger manifest showed the flight had 40 passengers, and two 30-year-old women. “We still don’t know the nationality because even in the presscon of the Hong Kong authorities, they didn’t say she is a Filipino. They just said that she came from a flight in Manila.”
Both female passengers tested negative for COVID-19 before boarding the flight on Dec. 22. Vergeire added that the passengers were first contacted this morning and have not been answering their phones since.
Dr. Edsel Salvana of the health advisory technical working group floated the possibility that the passenger might have been infected in Hong Kong, not Manila. “It depends on the timing. Kasi ganito lang yun: kung may nakuha siyang negative test noong Dec. 22, it takes three to five days bago siya mag-positive again. And if nag-test siya sa Hong Kong after Dec. 27, it is more likely na doon niya nakuha yon," Salvana said.
While Hong Kong did not go on a complete lockdown since the pandemic, it has one of the lowest numbers of infections and deaths in Asia. As of Jan. 6, Hong Kong has 9,050 cases of COVID-19, 8,127 patients discharged, and 153 deaths.
Hong Kong has carried out 5.5 million COVID tests on its 7.5-million population.
Since August, arriving passengers at its airport were required to take a COVID test immediately and wait for the results, released on the same day, before proceeding to immigration. It also imposed compulsory quarantine at home or hotel room to arriving passengers.
The Philippines has yet to detect the UK strain in the country. DOH said recently they would be “furthering this monitoring. We might need to strengthen our measures in the event there is a new strain in the country. But right now, there is none.”
The new strain, according to UK health officials in a statement on Dec. 20, also causes a higher mortality rate. , Chris Whitty, Chief Medical Officer for England, said that there is no evidence that the new strain could affect the COVID-19 vaccine and treatments, although “urgent work is underway to confirm this.”