The Chilean government has announced new measures for travelers following detection of the new variant of the SARS-CoV-2 virus
Thanks to the coordination by health teams and the random PCR testing at Santiago airport, the Public Health Institute (ISP) detected the new strain in a Chilean woman arriving from the United Kingdom.
Public Health Undersecretary Paula Daza along with the acting Director of the ISP, Heriberto García, and members of the COVID-19 Advisory Committee, Ximena Aguilera and Fernando Otaíza, reported that the new variant of the SARS-CoV-2 virus, identified in the United Kingdom, had been detected in a Chilean woman arriving from England on Iberia flight 6833 from Madrid. The woman was tested as part of the active search to identify new cases and random traveler testing strategy in place since December 8.
The result was positive for COVID-19, and since the woman came from the United Kingdom, “a sample was sent to the ISP for genome sequence analysis and identification of SARS-CoV-2 variants. Last night, the results of the analysis identified the strain as SARS-CoV-2 VUI 202012/01, the one identified in the United Kingdom. While we know this strain is not more aggressive, there is a risk that it is more contagious,” explained Undersecretary Daza.
Undersecretary Daza reported that, as a result of this first case, beginning tomorrow, December 30, 2020, all Chileans, foreign residents of Chile and visiting foreigners who arrive or return to Chile must complete a mandatory 10-day quarantine regardless of the country they are coming from.
They may only be released from quarantine with a negative PCR result taken on or after the seventh day of isolation. They must remain in quarantine while awaiting the result. On the other hand, the restriction on entering Chile for persons who have visited the United Kingdom in the last 14 days remains in place.
Upon arrival in Chile, the passenger took the test before flying to Temuco on Jetsmart flight JA281, which left Santiago on December 22 at 12:15. She then traveled with her mother and aunt, wearing a mask in a private vehicle, to Panguipulli.
All three women were subject to the traveler monitoring period and the mandatory 14-day quarantine for people arriving from the United Kingdom. On December 20, the Chilean government established the mandatory quarantine measure, canceled all direct flights between the United Kingdom and Chile and prohibited entry for all non-resident foreigners who have been in the United Kingdom in the last 14 days.
The Undersecretary noted that, to date, the woman and her two close contacts are asymptomatic and in good health. However, because this is a new variant of the virus, they were taken to a hospital in the Los Ríos Region to carry out their quarantine and remain under medical observation.
"We were able to detect this case thanks to the good traveler monitoring system in place and active search system used to identify cases at the airport, as a result of which, more than 3,200 tests have been performed. Beginning yesterday, the system has been strengthened with pool testing, a technique that enables analysis of a greater number of samples. I want to emphasize that this system of monitoring and actively searching for cases has enabled us to detect this new strain and handle the case,” reiterated the Undersecretary.
Furthermore, she explained that the Regional Ministerial Secretary for Health for the region is locating the passengers who meet the close contact criteria for air transportation. They must all undergo preventative quarantine at Health Residences until the incubation period is complete and they will be given a serial-numbered PCR test. The ISP will analyze all the samples with positive results to determine whether they correspond to the SARS-CoV-2 variant under surveillance.
Since the beginning of the pandemic, scientists from the Public Health Institute have sequenced the entire genome for the isolated Chilean virus strains to learn about their genotype characteristics and conduct clinical and epidemiological surveillance of the virus variants.
To date, the entire genome has been analyzed for 620 Chilean cases of SARS-CoV-2, revealing that GR is the variant predominately in circulation.
Heriberto García, Acting Director of the ISP, noted that “we are sequencing the spike protein from the United Kingdom and, given the dates, we can now say that the strain from England is now present in Chile.” He added, “we are going to expand the surveillance process. Since the strain was taken to southern Chile, we will receive support from Universidad Austral de Chile and will thus be able to increase monitoring. Studies have not yet proven that this new strain is more contagious.”
This information is currently available and has been released for the world’s scientific community on the GISAID database, where a world map of the virus and its variations, by region, is being created. That is why collaboration from all Chile’s laboratories, including university laboratories, is essential. They are sequencing the genome of the SARS-CoV-2 virus to upload the information to this website: https://www.gisaid.org/ and thereby contribute to a detailed compilation of each region.
Epidemiologist Ximena Aguilera, a member of the COVID-19 Advisory Committee, highlighted the importance of expanding research on the variants. She explained that after the British government reported this new variant, the WHO issued an alert and called upon countries to increase their research and perform the sequencing. “They also warned that, given the situation in England, it is very probable that the strain is in other countries around the world. So, they asked all countries to start looking for it,” she said.
That is why the expert called upon the public to act responsibly and conscientiously. “People who make non-essential trips are putting themselves at risk. Thus, once they come back, they must try to act prudently, in the sense of not going to see people with additional risk factors and taking a test immediately if they experience symptoms, regardless of the country they are arriving from,” she emphasized.
Speaking about the passengers who were on the flights with the passenger who has tested positive for COVID, she recommended that they take extra precautions and undergo a PCR test.