Philippines confirms first 2 cases of COVID-19 omicron variant

Gillan Ropero, ABS-CBN News

Posted at Dec 15 2021 01:34 PM | Updated as of Dec 15 2021 04:33 PM

Passengers arrive at the NAIA Terminal 1 on November 29, 2021 amid the IATF ban on 14 countries affected by the Omicron variant of the coronavirus. Passengers coming from or have been to the countries under the list within the last 14 days are not allowed to enter the country, amid the threat of the new variant of COVID-19. Mark Demayo, ABS-CBN News
Passengers arrive at the NAIA Terminal 1 on November 29, 2021 amid the IATF ban on 14 countries affected by the Omicron variant of the coronavirus. Passengers coming from or have been to the countries under the list within the last 14 days are not allowed to enter the country, amid the threat of the new variant of COVID-19. Mark Demayo, ABS-CBN News

MANILA (3rd UPDATE) - The Philippines on Wednesday confirmed two omicron COVID-19 cases from international travelers, the Department of Health said.

One is a 48-year-old male returning Filipino who arrived from Japan on Dec. 1 via Philippine Airlines flight PR 0427, and who tested positive and was admitted in a quarantine facility on Dec. 7. He is currently asymptomatic but had symptoms of colds and cough upon arrival, the DOH said.

The other patient is a 37-year-old male Nigerian national who arrived from his home country on Nov. 30 via Oman Air flight WY 843. He tested positive on Dec. 7 and was also admitted in an isolation facility on the same date. He is asymptomatic, according to the health agency.

Both are currently isolated in a facility managed by the Bureau of Quarantine, the DOH said.

One of the cases is fully vaccinated while the other has not been inoculated, Health Undersecretary and spokesperson Maria Rosario Vergeire said without further details.

The agency said it was verifying the test results and health status of all passengers of said flights to determine if there were other confirmed cases or passengers who became symptomatic after arrival. It is still getting the flights' list of passengers and crew, Vergeire said.

Travelers who arrived through these flights are urged to call the DOH hotlines (02) 8942 6843 and 1555, or their respective local governments to report their status.

The omicron variant has 50 mutations, including 30 in the spike protein region, which might cause "increased transmissibility and immune evasion," the DOH earlier said.

It "may be over 10 times more transmissible" than the original variant or 4.2 times more transmissible than the delta variant, which is dominant in the country, said Dr. Alethea de Guzman, director of the DOH Epidemiology Bureau.

The Philippines as of Wednesday has so far detected 7,919 delta variant cases, following the detection of 33 more infections, according to the DOH. Of the new delta variant cases, 14 were returning Filipinos while 19 were local cases.

Early data suggests the omicron variant might cause milder disease and might more easily reinfect people than previous variants, the World Health Organization said.

The latest coronavirus variant, first detected in South Africa, Botswana and Hong Kong, has already been reported in 78 nations, including the Philippines.

TRAVEL BAN

The government on Wednesday announced a ban on travelers from eight territories in a bid to keep out the omicron variant.

Effective Dec. 16 to 31, travelers from the following "high-risk" areas that are part of the so-called "Red List" will be banned from entering the Philippines, said Cabinet Secretary Karlo Nograles. 

  • Andorra
  • France
  • Monaco
  • Northern Mariana Islands
  • Reunion
  • San Marino
  • South Africa
  • Switzerland 

Only Filipinos returning through repatriation efforts and "Bayanihan" flights are exempted from the travel ban, said Nograles, who serves as Malacañang's acting spokesman. 

"We assure our people that we will closely monitor developments of the two cases in light of existing protocols, as we continue to remind the public not to let their guard down, to religiously observe minimum public health standards, and call upon all those unvaccinated to get their jabs as soon as possible," he said in a statement. 

Meanwhile, the Department of Education (Deped) said it would consult the DOH on adjustments that would be made in relation to the conduct of limited in-person classes following the detection of omicron.

"We will discuss this soonest with DOH and defer to the advice of our health experts," DepEd Public Affairs Service Director June Arvin Gudoy told reporters who asked about the agency's next steps.

Nearly 300 schools nationwide are currently holding limited in-person classes as part of the first in a three-phased plan to reopen basic education schools during the pandemic.

The Philippines, as of Wednesday, has recorded a total of 2,836,915 confirmed coronavirus infections, of which 10,193 or 0.4 percent are active, the DOH said.

The country has seen a decline in new infections since October which health authorities and analysts attribute to the widening vaccination coverage. More than half of the high-end target of 77.1 million individuals have already been fully vaccinated against COVID-19, official data showed.

- with reports from Jamaine Punzalan and Jaehwa Bernardo, ABS-CBN News

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