Health Secretary Francisco T. Duque III (right) and Dasmariñas City Mayor Jennifer Barzaga (left), a registered nurse by profession, administer a Covid-19 booster shot to two persons during the rollout of the jabs for essential workers (A4) and the indigent population (A5) at the De La Salle University campus in Dasmariñas City, Cavite on Friday (Dec. 3, 2021). Local government units were earlier allowed to extend the three-day 'Bayanihan, Bakunahan' massive vaccination drive until Friday. (PNA photo by Joey O. Razon)

Philippines on guard against Omicron threat

By Maja H. Dahan

Just when the Philippine government began easing restrictions in an effort to bring everything back to normalcy, the Omicron variant of the coronavirus disease has started sowing terror in other parts of the world.

The country may still reeling from the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic that has claimed countless lives worldwide and caused the local economy to slump to its lowest level since the Second World War, but it is now forced to be on guard against the threat of another variant which is said to be more deadly.

According to the World Health Organization, the Omicron variant has enormous number of mutations and it can possibly re-infect people who previously had COVID-19.

The threat of Omicron has prompted the Philippine government to hasten the roll-out of COVID-19 booster shots and implement travel restriction to several countries where the cases of the new variant had been found.

Meanwhile, a health official on Friday said there are still no Omicron variant cases in the country.

During an online media forum, Health Undersecretary Maria Rosario Vergeire reported the government is performing intensive backtracing and re-testing of the individuals who arrived in the country from three African countries.

“We are doing our biosurveillance regularly and we’re also doing backtracing, nagre-retrospective sampling din tayo (we’re also doing retrospective sampling,” she said.

For the period of Nov. 15 to 29, a total of 254 travelers came from South Africa.

Of the 254 individuals, only one tested positive for Covid-19 while 83 tested negative for the disease.

Some 134 individuals still have pending test results while 35 persons did not require a swab test upon arrival.

Moreover, 183 individuals are still being contacted by the Bureau of Quarantine and the Department of the Interior and Local Government while the remaining 71 have been contacted and verified.

Three of the 71 contacted and verified individuals are foreigners from South Africa.

“The South African nationals in Region 6, all are fully vaccinated and currently asymptomatic. They are currently undergoing home quarantine and underwent re-swabbing with pending results,” Vergeire said.

Around 67 of the contacted and verified individuals are still due for a re-test.

Vergeire added there were other arrivals from Burkina Faso and Egypt and samples are now being processed for sequencing at the Philippine Genome Center.

“Each of these countries has a traveler that tested positive for Covid-19… lahat ng nag-positive na ‘yan, as long as the CT [cycle threshold] values are appropriate, ipapadala po iyan sa (all those who tested positive for Covid-19, as long as the CT values are appropriate, we will send them to the) Philippine Genome Center for genome sequencing,” she said.

The government has strengthened its arrival protocols for countries not under the red list by extending the facility-based quarantine to five days for the vaccinated and seven days for the unvaccinated.

Moreover, they are required to complete the mandatory 14-day home quarantine.

To date, a total of 416 cases of the Omicron variant have been detected in 35 countries. (With reports from PNA)

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