More transmissible than Delta? Expert urges public vigilance over Omicron variant

Aleta Nieva Nishimori, ABS-CBN News

Posted at Nov 27 2021 09:55 AM | Updated as of Nov 27 2021 10:15 AM

MANILA— An infectious disease expert on Saturday urged the public to remain vigilant and strictly adhere to health protocols amid the possible threat of a more highly transmissible COVID-19 variant first detected in South Africa.

“Alam na natin na 'yung Delta mataas ang transmissibility kaya maraming na-admit, marami rin nagkakasakit na naging severe. If this virus ganito kadami ng mutation we presume that the behavior of this virus is more transmissible compared to Delta,” said Dr. Rontgene Solante.

(We know that Delta has a high transmissibility rate that’s why many were admitted and many developed severe illness. We presume that, because of the mutations [in the Omicron variant] the behavior of this virus is more transmissible compared to Delta.)

The World Health Organization (WHO) on Friday classified the B.1.1.529 variant detected in South Africa as a SARS-CoV-2 "variant of concern," saying it may spread more quickly than other forms. 

“Obserbahan natin kung talaga bang deadly ito dahil ang information natin is this virus is very highly transmissible,” said Solante.

(Let’s observe if this is going to be deadly because based on our information this virus is very highly transmissible.)

Preliminary evidence on the new variant suggest there is an increased risk of reinfection and there had been a "detrimental change in COVID-19 epidemiology," the WHO said in a statement after a closed meeting of independent experts who reviewed the data.
 
The B.1.1.529 variant has a "very unusual constellation" of mutations, which are concerning because they could help it evade the body's immune response and make it more transmissible, scientists said this week. 

With the threat of the variant, the Philippine government acted swiftly by suspending inbound flights from South Africa and six other countries amid the presence of the B.1.1.1529 COVID-19 variant there. The suspension will be imposed until Dec. 15

“They evaluated fully, nakita nila gaano kadelikado itong mutation sa isang virus na more or less highly transmissible over that of Delta so I think that’s the clincher there na talagang nag-declare kaagad ng border control sa mga bansang meron nang Omicron,” said Solante.

(They evaluated and saw how dangerous this mutation is that is more or less highly transmissible over that of Delta so I think that was the clincher there for them to impose border control on countries where Omicron is present.)

Aside from South Africa, the suspension of inbound international flights covers Botswana, Namibia, Zimbabwe, Lesotho, Eswatini, and Mozambique.

The Bureau of Quarantine has been directed to locate travelers from the mentioned countries who may have arrived in the recent 7 days prior to the temporary suspension of inbound travel. The travelers will be required to undergo 2-week quarantine with a mandatory RT-PCR test on the 7th day.

Solante advised all travelers, not only those coming from South Africa, to report to local authorities and have themselves tested if they experience symptoms. They should also go through the Philippines’ quarantine requirements.

“Walang short cut,” he said.

(There’s no short cut.)

Solante said the public should continue to observe the health protocols, while the COVID-19 vaccination program should also proceed unhampered.

"'Pag bumaba ang kaso nagiging complacent na tayo, hindi na tayo nagpapa-test. I think we need to encourage na 'pag merong mga sintomas part of the surveillance talagang magpapa-test tayo," he said.

(We become complacent and no longer do tests when COVID cases drop. I think we need to encourage the public that part of the surveillance is to get tested when we have symptoms.)

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