DOH: No need to close PH borders yet
The Department of Health (DOH) sees no need to close borders or lengthen the mandatory quarantine for international travelers even with the detection of the first cases of the worrisome COVID-19 Omicron variant in the country.
Health Undersecretary Maria Rosario Vergeire said on Thursday that current border controls and quarantine protocols were working to prevent the entry of highly transmissible viruses such as the Delta and now the Omicron variants.
“We cannot close our borders to the rest of the world. We need to understand how this will affect our economy and foreign relations (though) public health is our priority,” Vergeire said in a virtual press briefing.
“For now it’s not rational for us to close our borders on countries that have just one case and usually these are imported cases,” she added.
The health official nevertheless called for strict border control measures for countries with local transmissions of the Omicron variant because this meant the disease was spreading in those places.
As of Wednesday, 79 nations have reported local Omicron cases, of which 34 have confirmed or suspected local transmission, according to the DOH.
Only eight countries—Andorra, France, Monaco, Northern Mariana Islands, Réunion, San Marino, South Africa and Switzerland—are in the Philippines’ “red list” of high-risk countries, down from 14 at the start of the month. The Bureau of Immigration said travelers from these countries are barred entry from Dec. 16 to 31.
The DOH said all but one of the eight identified close contacts of the two detected Omicron cases have tested negative for COVID-19.
The two cases—a 48-year-old Filipino who returned from Japan last Dec. 1 and a 37-year-old Nigerian national who arrived from his home country on Nov. 30—were currently asymptomatic but would remain under isolation until they test negative for the virus, Vergeire said.
Both men tested positive for COVID-19 on Dec. 7 and their samples were among the 48 analyzed by the Philippine Genome Center on Dec. 13. The results that they were positive for the Omicron variant came out on Dec. 14 and announced by the DOH on Dec. 15.
Nearly half or 22 of the latest sequenced samples had the Delta variant, currently the dominant variant globally.
Vergeire said the two Omicron cases and all their copassengers underwent mandatory facility quarantine and RT-PCR test.
The Filipino’s lone close contact—a copassenger in the business class of Philippine Airlines flight PR 0427—tested negative for COVID-19 on Dec. 4. The Nigerian national had seven close contacts who were passengers seated close to him while he sat at the very back of the Oman Air flight WY 843.
Vergeire said six of them tested negative for COVID-19 last Dec. 2 and 3 while the status of the remaining close contact was still being verified. “This means the chances that they were sick when they went home to their community were very small. It’s because the guidelines were followed,” she said.
The DOH also would not recommend for now renewed restrictions by raising the risk level from the current alert level 2, citing the declining COVID-19 cases and low hospital occupancy.
“We do not need to panic; we do not need to fear. What we need to do is be cautious and be focused. There is no room for complacency now,” she said, reminding the public to continue wearing masks, observe physical distancing, prefer ventilated spaces, limit mass gatherings and get vaccinated.
COVID-19 cases continued to decline as the DOH reported 289 new infections on Thursday, the third straight day with less than 300 new cases.
The DOH said 89 percent or 256 of the newly reported cases occurred within the past two weeks while the rest were much earlier.
The DOH also reported 47 more deaths due to COVID-19.
The agency again blamed “late encoding” in its COVIDKaya case collection system for the late reporting.
The country now has 2,837,016 confirmed cases and 50,496 deaths due to COVID-19. Active cases, or those who are still infected, went down to 10,095, the lowest since May 24, 2020.
Out of the 37,139 individuals who were tested, 0.9 percent were found infected with the virus, the lowest positivity rate since data became available. Four laboratories did not submit their data.
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