MANILA — The Philippines is doing its "best" to keep out the COVID-19 variant detected in India, where a record surge of coronavirus infections has pushed the health care system to the brink of collapse, Malacañang said on Thursday.
The Palace made this statement after the health department on Wednesday said 5 travelers from India tested positive for the novel coronavirus after arriving in the Philippines.
Travelers who arrived in the Philippines before a travel ban on India are required to stay at a quarantine facility for 14 days, even if they test negative for the novel coronavirus, said Palace spokesman Harry Roque.
"Kampante naman tayo na dahil nga sina-subject sila to 14 days quarantine regardless of their PCR test, mapipigilan po ang pagpasok nung Indian strain," he said in a press briefing.
(We are confident that because they are subject to 14 days of quarantine regardless of their PCR test, we can prevent the entry of the Indian strain. At least we will do all measures to prevent or delay its entry. But in this world, that's difficult to do.)
The Philippines suspended the entry of travelers from India until May 14. Authorities later widened the travel ban to cover Bangladesh, Pakistan, Nepal and Sri Lanka.
However, travel between India and the Middle East is one of the highest in the world, said Roque. The Middle East hosts some 2.2 million Filipino workers, according to government data.
"Iyan po ang ating problema kasi hindi naman natin mapigil ang mga kababayan natin na babalik sa Pilipinas galing sa Middle East," Roque said.
"Kaya nga po ang sabi ko, it may not be an absolute guarantee na hindi makakapasok, pero we're doing our best to contain [it]," he added.
(That is the problem because we cannot stop our compatriots from returning to the Philippines from the Middle East. That is why I said, it may not be an absolute guarantee that the variant cannot enter, but we are doing our best to contain it.)
Authorities have not yet detected the India COVID-19 variant in the Philippines as of May 3, said the health department.
But the agency said the Philippines' total 1,073,555 confirmed coronavirus infections included some cases of the more contagious variants observed in South Africa, the United Kingdom, and Brazil.
"The detection of these variants... do not mean that these variants are now the dominant variants in the country," the Department of Health said in a statement.
Health Secretary Francisco Duque III warned the Philippines could face a COVID-19 surge similar to that of India if the public fails to follow minimum health protocols.
Nationwide, India has recorded over 20 million infections since the start of the epidemic, the second-highest in the world after the United States, and over 225,000 deaths.
Hospitals in India are scrabbling for beds and oxygen as they desperately battle a second deadly surge of infections, while morgues and crematoriums struggle to deal with a seemingly unstoppable flow of bodies.
Many people have died in ambulances and car parks waiting for a bed or oxygen.
- With a report from Reuters