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MANILA, Dec 6 (Mabuhay) — The Department of Health (DOH) on Monday said the deescalation of the country’s quarantine status to Alert Level 1 is not foreseeable as of now due to the threat of the Omicron COVID-19 variant.

“Ay hindi muna. Hindi muna tayo magluluwag to Alert Level 1. Ayaw muna, Alert Level 2 muna tayo. Tignan natin, bantayan natin,” Health Secretary Francisco Duque III said.

The whole country is now under Alert Level 2 until December 15 after the province of Apayao was classified under Alert Level 2 starting December 3, along with other regions including Metro Manila.

Duque cited reports from several European countries where COVID-19 cases were increasing again. This is, according to him, due to eased minimum public health standards (MPHS) in these countries such as removing face masks and increasing social mobility.

Meanwhile, he said the government was able to fight off the previous COVID-19 surges in the Philippines during months where vaccine supplies were still limited because the MPHS were continuously observed by the public.

“Harinawa, sana ito ay hindi mas malala o mas piligroso sa Delta variant na kung saan, kahit papaano ay natagumpayan na natin dahil sa baba ng bilang ng kaso ng ating nasaksihan at naipamahagi sa ating mga kababayan,” he said.

(I hope that the Omicron is not worse or more dangerous than the Delta variant, which we have somehow overcome based on the number of cases we have seen and reported to the public.)

Duque noted that the government’s preparations for the Omicron variant is the same with its preparations for the Delta, as well as other variants. This includes the border control which the country has implemented.

So far, passengers coming from South Africa, Austria, Czech Republic, Hungary, The Netherlands, Switzerland, Belgium, Italy, Botswana, Namibia, Zimbabwe, Lesotho, Eswatini, and Mozambique 14 days prior to their arrival in the Philippines are not allowed regardless of their vaccination status.

“Sa awa ng Diyos, wala pa rin tayong Omicron. Pero papasok at papasok ‘yan dahil lagpas 30 bansa na ang nag-ulat ng Omicron variant so ito ay mabilis na kumakalat, pero we need to buy time,” Duque said, noting that the country is preparing its health system capacity for this possibility.

The World Health Organization (WHO) has classified Omicron as a variant of concern. The global organization said it is not yet clear if the variant is more transmissible compared to other variants or if it causes a more severe disease.

“Nagaantay pa tayo ng bagong mga reports o ulat mula sa WHO at nakikipag-ugnayan tayo kung ano ba ang mas buong pagkilala o characterization ng Omicron variant. Ica-calibrate natin ‘yung ating response doon,” he added.

The University of the Philippines COVID-19 Pandemic Response Team said on Sunday that getting the primary doses of vaccines and booster shots thereafter could still help fight the Omicron variant should it enter the country.

Testing of travelers

Further, Duque said that no Omicron variant has been detected yet from the latest genome sequencing on the samples taken from three travelers who came from Omicron-affected countries to determine if they carry the Omicron variant.

DOH reported on Friday that there were 253 travelers from South Africa, three from Burkina Faso, and 541 from Egypt who arrived in the country from November 15 to November 29. Of which, three tested positive for COVID-19.

Duque said the RT-PCR testing for these travelers is continuous.

“Ang alam ko may 81 na sila na natukoy out of…identified na nabigyan na ng RT-PCR testing. Kung positive man siya, ipapadala kaagaran ‘yan sa Philippine Genome Center for sequencing para malaman kung nakapasok na ba ang Omicron variant sa Pilipinas,” he said.

(So far, there are 81 samples tested from those who underwent the RT-PCR testing. If they test positive, they will immediately be brought to the Philippine Genome Center for sequencing to know if the Omicron variant has already entered the country.)

The Bureau of Quarantine also said on Sunday that most travelers from these Omicron-affected countries are still under quarantine and have not shown COVID-19 symptoms, so far.

BOQ Deputy Director Roberto Salvador Jr. noted the public has nothing to worry about as these travelers need to undergo a 14-day mandatory quarantine as mandated by the Inter-Agency Task Force (IATF). (MNS)

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