Health experts urge tighter border controls vs. Omicron variant threat
MANILA, Philippines — Health experts recommended on Monday further tightening border controls amid the emergence of the Omicron variant of COVID-19.
The health experts had earlier met with President Rodrigo Duterte and members of the National Task Force Against COVID-19 (NTF) to discuss plans on how to get ready for the Omicron variant, which was considered to be more dangerous than the Delta variant.
Dr. Anna Ong-Lim, an expert on pediatric infectious diseases, said one action the government could take to prevent another surge was to learn from the country’s experience from the Delta variant.
“When the Delta variant was identified in India in May, it took almost two months before it entered the Philippines because we tightened our border controls,” Lim said, speaking in a mix of English and Filipino during the taped televised briefing with the president.
“So maybe one can study this so we can buy more time to be able to strengthen our health infrastructure to be ready for the worst eventuality,” she added.
Dr. Marissa Alejandria, director of the Institute of Clinical Epidemiology (ICE), stressed the importance of preparing for the new variant.
“Knowing that there’s a surge now in Europe, for us that’s lead time to review our capacity and strengthen our health system,” Alejandria said.
“We really need to be strict in enforcing our border controls or protocols so we need to review them again,” she added.
Meanwhile, Interior Secretary Eduardo Año admitted that, while border controls have been tightened in general, those in the southern area of the Philippines remained “porous.”
“Our border in the south is porous. That’s what we have to guard because that’s where Filipino Muslims from Sabbah, from Malaysia, or Indonesia get in without going through the ports,” Año said.
Because of this, he said the Department of the Interior and Local Government would a directive to strictly monitor the region.
The government earlier added to its red list seven countries with confirmed cases of the Omicron variant and suspended the entry of even fully vaccinated travelers from less-infected countries.
However, the government has yet to close the borders on some countries — including Hong Kong and Australia — that have both confirmed to have detected Omicron cases and where there is a high concentration of Filipinos who may want to be repatriated.
Meanwhile, the World Health Organization earlier warned that the Omicron variant posed ‘very high’ global risk and urged countries to prepare.
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