MANILA - The Philippines' health department on Monday called for strict implementation of border control and minimum public health standards following the classification of Omicron as a COVID-19 variant of concern.
The Philippines 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.
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.
"Dahil nakakita tayo ng maraming mutations kaya tinataas natin ang pagbabantay at yung ating response upang ma-delay as much as possible ang entry ng variant na ito sa Pilipinas," De Guzman told reporters.
(We heightened our monitoring and response because we've seen many mutations, to delay as much as possible the variant's entry to the Philippines.)
Local governments are urged to quickly identify and isolate new cases while all eligible samples of returning overseas Filipinos will undergo genome sequencing, De Guzman said.
"Even with lower number of cases, we have never stopped our biosurveillance. May kaunting pagbabago lang, pagpapaala sa RESUs (Regional Epidemiology and Surveillance Units), LGUs na 'pag may nakita silang lugar na pagtaas ng kaso, ipa-prioritize dun sa isasama sa sequencing," she said.
(There are slight changes. We want to remind our RESUs, LGUs to prioritize areas with increasing cases in genome sequencing.)
Aside from genome sequencing, the public is urged to follow minimum public health standards such as wearing of face masks, practicing physical distancing, and proper handwashing to avoid COVID-19 infection.
"With or without Omicron, we need to fully vaccinate everyone as large a percentage as possible, and parallel to that, provide booster dosage to 3 priority populations," De Guzman said.
"Ang iba nating priority, like A4 and others, pinag-aaralan pa natin paano sila makakasunod when it comes to booster doses."
(We're still studying the rollout of booster doses to other priority groups such as A4.)
The country on Monday began its 3-day national vaccination drive which aims to inoculate at least 9 million more individuals in a bid to reach its minimum target of immunizing 50 million against COVID-19 this year.
All areas in the country are under low risk case classification, with low occupancy of bed and intensive care units, according to De Guzman. As of Nov. 27, there were 82 cases pending ICU admissions with 1,826 vacant ICU beds, she said.
"Ang total pending admissions is lower than what's available. So kaya nating i-accommodate ang mga ito," she said.
(The total number of pending admissions is lower than what's available. So, we can accommodate these.)
The country had an average of 896 daily cases from Nov. 23 to Nov. 29, a 34-percent decrease from 1,353 daily infections from Nov. 16 to Nov. 22.
As of Sunday, the Philippines has logged a total of 2,831,807 COVID-19 cases, with 16,630 active infections.