Manila [Philippines], January 14 (ANI/Xinhua): The Department of Health (DOH) of the Philippines reported 1,912 new confirmed cases of COVID-19 on Thursday, bringing the country's total tally to 494,605.
The national death toll climbed to 9,739 after 40 more patients died from the coronavirus epidemic, the DOH said. It added that 746 more patients recovered, raising the total number of recoveries to 459,252.
The Philippines, which has about 110 million population, has tested over 6.72 million people since reporting its first infection in January last year.
Health officials have called for "extra vigilance" following the detection of a more transmissible coronavirus variant in the Philippines.
On Wednesday, the Philippines confirmed its first case of the new variant first found in Britain and spreading rapidly to many other countries. The new variant was detected in a 29-year-old Filipino man who had traveled to Dubai with his girlfriend.
The DOH said the patient and his girlfriend tested negative when they left Manila on Dec. 27 last year. But the man tested positive for COVID-19 when they flew back to the Philippines on Jan. 7, the DOH said. They are currently held in an isolation facility along with five other family members.
The DOH has started tracing the people exposed to the patient, including his 159 fellow passengers.
Health Secretary Francisco Duque said the DOH has intensified its biosurveillance or the genomic sequencing "to detect if there is a spike of cases due to the variant from the United Kingdom."
"It is very important that we widen our genomic surveillance and to watch closely the number of cases every day to see if there is a sign of a surge," Duque said in an online briefing.
Duque said that even before the new strain was detected, the DOH was already bracing for the post-holiday surge.
"But this time, we have to be very careful due to the more infectious variant that might accelerate the post-holiday surge. So the DOH is doubly vigilant and careful," he added.
Health Undersecretary Maria Rosario Vergeire warned of a potential increase in transmission if people become complacent.
She urged local government units "to be extra vigilant and ensure strict implementation of existing quarantine and isolation protocols."
She further urged people to continue covering their faces when staying outside, avoid the crowd and keep a safe social distance to cut the transmission.
Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte has expressed hope that the new strain would not be "more dangerous and toxic."
"There was a mutation, and it's a new monster. And I prayed to God that it is not more dangerous, more toxic than the original COVID," he said in a public address late Wednesday night.
The Philippines imposed travel restrictions as early as December 2020 to prevent the spread of the variant, barring foreign travelers from 33 countries and regions with new variant cases through Jan. 15. (ANI/Xinhua)