Palace adviser nixes restrictions on travelers from countries with COVID omicron XE cases

Job Manahan, ABS-CBN News

Posted at Apr 06 2022 06:23 PM | Updated as of Apr 06 2022 07:16 PM

Foreign nationals arrive  ABS-CBN News
Foreign nationals arrive at the Ninoy Aquino International Airport in Pasay City on February 10, 2022, the first day the country reopened its borders to fully vaccinated international travelers from select countries. Jonathan Cellona, ABS-CBN News

MANILA - A Presidential adviser on Wednesday rejected calls to implement restrictions on travelers from countries that have detected the reportedly more transmissible COVID-19 omicron XE variant, urging instead the public to get their coronavirus jabs. 

The omicron XE has so far emerged in neighboring Thailand, while other countries have reported a fresh wave of COVID-19 infections.

"Ang tingin ko naman dito (what I think about it is), if you’re fully vaccinated and boosted [you are protected] - you cannot prevent these variants from coming in ‘no - the best you can do is to prepare for it," Presidential Adviser for Entrepreneurship Joey Concepcion said in a public briefing.

"And nakita naman natin eh, those who have the vaccination, [they already have immunity] or natural immunity. Maski nahawa sila, it is very mild and prevents hospitalization," he added. 

(Those who have vaccination already have natural immunity. Even if they are infected, it is only mild.) 

What Concepcion is worried about though is the rise in hospitalizations when the country's immunity "breaks" due to the slowdown in vaccination, as well as the waning vaccine efficacy as months go by.

Around 27 million virus jabs are supposedly expiring in July, which was why he urged eligible individuals to get their COVID-19 shots and boosters. 

Only 66.3 million people are so far vaccinated, government data showed, while nearly 12.3 million others already got their boosters. Fully vaccinated individuals can get their boosters after 3 months. 

"What we are scared of is if our wall of immunity breaks down towards the second half of the year. Then that's where we are going to have a problem," he said. 

"We are really calling for concern here. Because down the road... if we don't maintain that wall of immunity, then we will definitely have problems. Sayang, we are already here at the level where everybody is doing much better," he said. 

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During the same briefing, infectious diseases expert Dr. Edsel Salvana said a relatively low number of people boosted could lead to a spike in new COVID-19 cases in the face of recombinant sublineages or variants.

"Kailangan mayroon tayong insurance. Ito na nga ang pagbo-boost sa mga tao, lalong lalo na sa vulnerable population na napapag-usapan na ngayon na baka kailangan nila ng second booster," said Salvana. 

(We should have an insurance through these boosters, most especially among the vulnerable population.) 

The Philippines at the start of this month reopened its borders to all fully vaccinated foreigners, as the country seeks to revive its pandemic-battered economy.

The XE is recombinant of two sublineages of the Omicron variants, BA.1 and BA.2, but it has three mutations that are not present in their parent sequences, according to the South China Morning Post.

The XE could be 10 percent more transmissible than the BA.2, according to the World Health Organization.

The "stealth" omicron or BA.2 variant prevails globally and locally, comprising majority of locally transmitted cases in the Philippines versus BA.1 variant that was found among returning Filipinos, the health department had said. 

— With a report from Gillan Ropero, ABS-CBN News