MANILA (UPDATE) — Some presidential aspirants in the 2022 elections on Monday are calling for heightened measures and for the public to be cautious amid the detection of the new COVID-19 Omicron variant.
Partido Lakas ng Masa presidential bet Leody De Guzman and Manila Mayor Isko Moreno Domagoso are seeking tighter restrictions and vigilance in the country's borders, with the former saying that the government should reconsider the easing of protocols.
“Dapat i-alarma na natin yung ating sektor ng kalusugan at yung ating mga opisyal ng pamahalaan para higpitan na rin ang pagbabantay sa ating mga daungan at airport sa pagpasok ng mga pasahero galing sa ibang bansa, lalo na sa South Africa, doon sa Belgium, sa Europe, sa Hong Kong at doon sa Israel. O, siguro sa lahat ng bansa na nagpupunta dito, dapat nating i-check nang sa ganun ay matiyak nating walang makakapasok na virus dito,” De Guzman said in a video message to ABS-CBN News.
(We must alert our health sector and our government officials to tighten surveillance at our ports and airports for arriving passengers from other countries, especially South Africa, Belgium, Europe, and Hong Kong, and there in Israel. Or maybe, all passengers from all countries, we should check them so that we can make sure no virus can enter here.)
"Kailangan na vigilant, kailangan strict implementation of our border control. When I say strict, it goes for everyone. The rules apply to everyone: mahirap, mayaman, banyaga, o mga kababayan natin, dapat iisa ang rule, walang special," Domagoso said in a statement Tuesday.
"Baka kasi malusutan tayo, and all we need is one infected person to spread it around."
Sen. Christopher "Bong" Go, who chairs the Senate Committee on Health and Demography, advised the public to strictly adhere to health and safety protocols, and not let their guard down.
"Huwag muna tayong makumpiyansa dahil delikado pa rin ang panahon lalo na at may mga bagong variant ng COVID-19 gaya nitong Omicron," he said in a statement.
“Sayang yung naumpisahan natin — ang magandang takbo ng ating COVID-19 response at vaccine rollout — kung magiging kampante muli tayo,” added the administration's bet to succeed President Rodrigo Duterte.
(Let's not be complacent because we are still in dangerous times, especially we have new COVID-19 variants like Omicron. We don't want to put to waste our improving situation due to our COVID-19 response and vaccine rollout.)
Echoing the views of De Guzman and Go, former Sen. Ferdinand "Bongbong" Marcos, Jr. also urged the country to "speed up mass vaccinations to achieve herd immunity fast", saying, "the sooner, the better."
Sen. Panfilo Lacson said Tuesday he finds the government response to the Omicron variant a little bit late but finds the travel restrictions imposed on the most affected countries timely.
“Well, medyo late na naman 'yung reaction. Mabuti na lang, naka-make up, naka-catch up na nag-ban muna tayo ulit, ano. Parang lahat naging yellow na lahat ngayon, ano, wala nang green sa treatment, 'di ba? So, mas maganda na, yung proactive. Kasi before, diyan na tayo talagang napasukan ng COVID-19," Lacson told reporters.
(Well, the reaction is a bit late again. Fortunately, the government was able to make up and catch up, by imposing the ban. It appears that all countries are now classified under the yellow list, and no more under green, as far as the treatment is concerned, right? So, it's better to be proactive. Because before, we failed on this that's why COVID-19 entered our country.)
"If you remember, di ba, 'yung going to abroad, 'yung travel from Cebu, Dumaguete then Manila. And we found out, doon sa aming Committee of the Whole hearing, 17 percent lang‚ 'yung na-contact tracing nila sa loob ng eroplano. Eh, ang dali n'un eh. So, doon nagsimulang mabilis kumalat 'yung COVID-19. Ito na naman, may Omicron na unknown, hindi pa masyadong alam kung ano talaga, mabuti na rin at nakapaghabol yung administration sa restrictions ng ating mga border,” he added.
(If you remember, one travelled from Cebu, to Dumaguete then Manila. And we found out, in our Committee of the Whole hearing, only 17 percent were covered by the contact tracing among those inside the plane that the first confirmed case took. That was supposed to be just easy. So, that's where COVID-19 started to spread quickly. Right now, we have Omicron that is unknown, we don't know much about what it really is. It's good that the administration has been able to catch up with the restrictions on our borders.)
The government has so far banned travelers from seven European countries (Austria, Czech Republic, Hungary, The Netherlands, Switzerland, Belgium, and Italy) and seven African nations (South Africa, Botswana, Namibia, Zimbabwe, Lesotho, Eswatini, and Mozambique) until Dec. 15.
It also kicked off on Monday its three-day national vaccination drive aiming to cover at least 9 million people. So far, more than 35.6 million have already been fully vaccinated against COVID-19 since the rollout started last March 1, while more than 45.4 million others have received their first dose.
De Guzman, a labor leader, lamented that the threat from the Omicron, which has already spread in other countries after it was first detected in South Africa, comes as the Philippine economy is just starting to recover and members of the labor force are slowly getting back their jobs.
"Siguro dapat ding magkaroon ng pagkakaisa tungkol doon sa mga protocol dahil sa ngayon pa lang, grabe na ang mga nagaganap na pagtitipon. May nakikita na tayong mga concert na talagang siksikan. Eh baka kailangan nating i-reconsider ang masyadong maluwag na pagbubukas, pagbibigay o pagpapabalas sa ating mga kababayan,” he said.
(Maybe, there should also be a common position as regards protocol, because right now, there are already gatherings taking place. We are already seeing concerts that are really crowded. Maybe we need to reconsider the easing of rules, allowing people to go out.)
Authorities should be more aggressive in mass testing and vaccination in order to sustain the declining trend in new infections, he added.
Go appealed to those who have yet to receive the COVID-19 vaccine to get inoculated as soon as possible.
"Ang ating kooperasyon ay tulong natin sa ating health workers na binubuwis ang kanilang sariling buhay para makapagligtas ng buhay ng iba," he said.
(Our cooperation is also our means of helping our health workers who are risking their lives to save others.)
Amid the threat of the Omicron, Marcos said the public should not be disheartened as the country already survived earlier variants.
"I, myself, have survived COVID-19. It’s a painful process, but I did beat COVID-19... As a unified country, we will survive Omicron. We can still prevent it," he said.
"Our recovery as a country, although slow as it is, must not be compromised. The safety of the entire population is paramount," he added.
Domagoso said they are assessing if events for the coming months like the Christmas season and Feast of the Black Nazarene would push through.
“Tinitignan ko muna 'yung Omicron effect para sa Nazareno. Kasi ‘yung Christmas tingin ko wala pa eh, wala pa tayong masyadong prinoproblema ngayon. We are ready. What we have last March in terms of capacity is still the same capacity that we have today in the city of Manila. In fact lumaki pa nga dahil dumami pa ‘yung gamot namin,” he said.
(I will first look into the effect of Omicron for the feast of Nazareno celebration. Because I don't think there will be an effect on the Christmas celebration. We don't see any problems until Christmas. We are ready. What we have last March in terms of capacity is still the same capacity that we have today in the city of Manila. In fact, it has even increased because we have more medicine.)
Just like the other presidential aspirants, Domagoso urged Manila residents and workers to strictly observe the minimum health protocols so they can go out and go back to work safely.
“At the rate we are going, gusto ko bukas ang negosyo, gusto ko bukas makalabas ang mga tao. Basta magpabukuna lang kayo at 'pag nakakaramdam kayo ng kakaiba, magpa-test kayo tutal libre naman. Life must go on. Learn to live with COVID-19 and go back to work safely,” he said.
(At the rate we are going, I want the business to be open, I want people to still be able to go out. Just get vaccinated. And if you feel some symptoms, you can take the test for free. Life must go on. Learn to live with COVID-19 and go back to work safely.)
The Manila mayor also encouraged local government units to prepare by making sure there are available hospitals beds and securing anti-viral drugs such as remdesivir, Tocilizumab, and Molnupiravir.
Lacson batted for science-based and data-driven decision-making in addressing future epidemics.
“Simple lang, dalawang bagay lang eh. Dapat science-based, saka data-driven. Hindi pwedeng nanghuhula o kaya hindi sumusunod doon sa siyensya," he said, adding that the universal health care should be fully funded to help patients cope with medical costs.
(It's simple, and it's just two things: It should be science-based and data-driven. It can't be that we'll just be guessing, or we don't follow science.)
Meanwhile, Partido Reporma senatorial candidate Dr. Minguita Padilla finds it premature for the government to announce that it is considering requiring again the wearing of face shields.
Padilla told reporters that there is a need for a deeper study on the nature of the Omicron variant before a decision can be made on face shields, adding the virus can even stick on face shields.
“Actually, I think premature 'yung statement nila that we will have to bring back the face shields, ano. First of all, hindi pa natin alam ang nature nitong new strain. Based on a lot of reports, although it’s highly contagious, airborne pa rin at hindi nag-iiba yung dynamics ng airborne. Dumidikit pa nga sa face shields, ano. Second is, it’s not as serious daw yung sakit. Pero masyado pang maaga. So parang masyadong mabilis‚ ‘Ay, ibabalik natin ang face shields.’ So parang it was too quick yung pagsabi. Tuloy, nagtataka yung mga tao, 'Ano kayang dahilan?' So, maraming malicious na mga comment,” Padilla said.
(Actually, I think their statement that we will have to bring back the face shields is premature. First of all, we do not yet know the nature of this new strain. Based on a lot of reports, although it’s highly contagious, it’s still airborne and the dynamics of it being airborne don’t change. It may even stick on face shields. Second is, it supposedly doesn't cause serious illness. But it’s still too early. So, it seems like it was too soon to talk about the return of the mandatory face shield use. That's why people are wondering, 'What could be the reason?' So, there are a lot of malicious comments.)
“In fact, even the WHO says hinay-hinay lang, pinag-aaralan pa natin ang mga characteristic nito... So, we cannot say too soon... Let’s not jump the gun immediately na face shields kaagad,” she added.
(In fact, even the WHO says let's take it slow, because we are still studying the characteristics of the new variant... So, we cannot say too soon... Let's not jump the gun immediately on the mandatory use of face shields.)
To contain a potential spread of the Omicron variant, Padilla also urged the government to strengthen its contact tracing and mass testing efforts, and revisit its policy to lift quarantine restrictions for returning overseas Filipino workers (OFWs).
The Philippines on Monday announced 665 new COVID-19 cases, the lowest daily tally since June last year, data from the health department showed.
Of the 2,832,375 total recorded cases, 16,289 or 0.6 percent were active infections, according to the latest Department of Health (DOH) bulletin.
The Omicron variant or B.1.1.529 has a total of 50 mutations, of which 30 are found in the spike protein region, according to Dr. Alethea de Guzman, director of the DOH epidemiology bureau.
Due to these mutations, it is "possible that the Omicron variant may have increased transmissibility and immune evasion," the DOH said. Further studies have to be made on the variant's transmissibility and impact on vaccine efficacy, it added.
— Reports from Mike Navallo, Josiah Antonio, Willard Cheng, and Gillan Ropero, ABS-CBN News