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December 31, 2021

by James Leonard M. Bautista

The Department of Health (DOH), the University of the Philippines – Philippine Genome Center (UP-PGC), and the University of the Philippines – National Institutes of Health (UP-NIH) released to its board, December 15, Philippines’ first two reported cases of the Omicron (B.1.1.529) Variant of COVID-19 which was tagged by the World Health Organization as a “variant of concern”. The first two cases of the variant were detected from the 48 samples sequenced on December 14.


One of the two cases reported with the said variant is a returning overseas Filipino (ROF) from Japan through Philippine Airlines PR 0427 on December 1 – asymptomatic, reported colds and cough upon arrival. Meanwhile, via Oman Air WY 843 arriving from Nigeria on November 30, a Nigerian National contracting the same COVID-19 variant is also reported to be asymptomatic – both are currently in isolation through the Bureau of Quarantine. The Regional Epidemiology and Surveillance Units (RESUs)  of the DOH recalls the tests results of the passengers who were on the same flight with the people contracted the COVID-10 variant and have all their health status monitored. Investigations for the possibility of local transmissions were also rolled out. Tracing all possible close contacts of the reported cases are needed to supplement more definitive data. Amidst the concerns of Omicron being heavily-mutated, highly-transmissible than the Delta variant (with early studies showing Omicron being more resistant to vaccines than the previous variants reported), the entire country however will remain to have its Alert level system be sustained in Alert Level 2, until December 31.


With the first two reported cases of the highly-infectious variant now in the country, immediate measures are to be imposed: tightening of border controls both local and international, delaying of tourism’s reopening, and accelerating COVID-19 vaccines to the general public.


The DOH reiterates its reminders to the public about the strict implementation of the minimum public health standards (MPHS) alongside protocols for isolation or quarantine and testing.


DOH Secretary and IATF Chairman Francisco T. Duque III in an interview prompted LGUs to recalibrate their respective localities in response to the presence of the Omicron variant in the country concurrently with the celebrations done during this holiday season.


“This holiday season, we continue to remind LGUs to conduct active case finding to identify cases and clusters. They may also implement granular lockdowns as needed. LGUs should also prepare isolation facilities for individuals who cannot do home quarantine or isolation. Lastly, increase vaccination coverage among the high-risk groups such as senior citizens and those with underlying conditions to reduce hospitalization and deaths due to COVID-19.”


Duque also added to have a strong collaboration of the government with the public in extending the programs of the Health Department was also encouraged: curb the possibility of localized transmissions, prevent the overwhelming of healthcare facilities, and heightened stringency in imposing the minimum health standards especially on public spaces.


“We also have to keep our healthcare utilization at a manageable level. We can do this by working together to prevent the transmission of COVID-19. All eligible individuals should get vaccinated or boosted as soon as possible. We can also use surgical masks, double masking, or complementing cloth masks with a face shield. We urge those who are showing symptoms of COVID-19 to isolate, get tested, and finish the prescribed duration. Lastly, if we can, let us do home isolation supported by regular teleconsultation.”