MANILA— Philippine authorities are mulling the possibility of banning travelers from Hong Kong after the city-state detected its local case of the "heavily mutated" COVID-19 Omicron variant, the Department of Health (DOH) said on Saturday.
Acting Health Spokesperson Dr. Beverly Ho said there is an "ongoing discussion" on the matter. Many overseas Filipino workers are currently employed in Hong Kong.
Health Secretary Francisco Duque III earlier said in a TV interview that they already recommended the ban to the Executive Secretary.
"Asahan niyo po na magkakaroon ng developments within the day or by tomorrow tungkol sa possible expansion po ng mga listahan," said Ho in a public briefing.
(Expect there will be developments within the day or by tomorrow regarding the possible expansion of the travel ban list.)
"Pero siyempre nakabase pa rin ito sa makukuha nating datos sa iba't ibang parte ng mundo na ngayon ay lumalabas po kung sila na po ay mayroon na ring na-detect," she added.
(But this is based on the information we will get from the different parts of the world regarding their infections on the new variant.)
This comes after the Philippines on Friday night suspended inbound flights from South Africa, where the variant of concerned was first detected, and 7 other countries surrounding it due to the threat.
The country is just bouncing back from the effects of the more virulent Delta variant, which crippled the country's health care system at its peak.
"Patuloy na nag-aaral ang team natin habang naga-unfold kasi oras-oras may lumalabas naman na pong impormasyon kasi even among the countries, they are sharing their data now," the health official said.
(Our team is still studying this as it unfolds because information comes hourly among the countries. They are sharing their data now.)
"Rest assured po may nag-aaral din niyan and mayroon pong magiging desisyon na mga lalabas in the next few hours or the next few days."
(There's a study on it and we are going to release a decision on it in the next few hours or the next few days.)
Preliminary evidence suggest there is an increased risk of reinfection with the Omicron and there had been a "detrimental change in COVID-19 epidemiology," the World Health Organization said in a statement.
Global authorities reacted with alarm to the new variant, with the EU and Britain among those tightening border controls as scientists sought to find out if the mutation was vaccine-resistant.
The alarm comes as the holiday season nears, usually the time travelers or overseas Filipinos return to the country to celebrate Christmas and the New Year.
The country on Friday logged nearly 900 new COVID-19 cases, the third straight day that infections fell below the 1,000-mark.
- With reports from Reuters
Video from PTV