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MANILA, Dec 6 (Mabuhay) — The University of the Philippines COVID-19 Pandemic Response Team (UP PRT) said on Sunday that getting the primary doses of vaccines and booster shots thereafter could still help fight the “highly transmissible” Omicron variant should it enter the country.

UP PRT spokesman Dr. Jomar Rabajante explained that they are currently monitoring the studies from other countries regarding the Omicron variant of the COVID-19 which was first detected in South Africa and has since been designated as a variant of concern by the World Health Organization (WHO).

“Sa ibang bansa, kung titignan po natin, may mga nagsasabi talaga na highly transmissible itong Omicron at up to three times mas transmissible than Delta. Mabilis po talagang kumalat at ‘yung pagkalat niya kitang-kita sa South Africa. As in marami na talaga doong Omicron ang variant,” Rabajante said.

Rabajante explained that the higher transmissibility of Omicron compared to Delta could be seen in the case of South Africa which was only detected in the country in early November, but has already infected lots of individuals a month after. On the other hand, he said it took a couple of months before the Delta variant has continuously spread in various countries.

He however noted that there are foreign experts who initially said that the severity of these cases are mild, but this is still subject to the verification of WHO. Rabajante also cited a study that showed that the reinfection rate was high among those who have had COVID-19 before.

“Ang sure po tayo rito, kahit may Omicron, makakatulong kung bakunado ka na. We just don’t know kung bababa ba ‘yung probability na mild lang o baka maging severe. Pero ang sinasabi ng marami, makakatulong ‘yung mga bakuna natin ngayon kung darating ang Omicron dito,” he said.

The Philippine Genome Center on Saturday floated the possibility that the Omicron variant may have already crossed the country’s borders. No case has been detected so far however from the 18,000 sequenced samples.

The Department of Health on Friday said 253 travelers from South Africa, three from Burkina Faso, and 541 from Egypt arrived in the country from November 15 to November 29. Three of them tested positive for COVID-19.

Malacañang is still awaiting the results of the genome sequencing on the samples taken from these three travelers to determine if they carry the Omicron variant.

As Christmas draws nearer, Rabajante reminded that while there has been a downward trend in the reported COVID-19 daily cases, the public should still be wary of the deaths and people in the intensive care units (ICU) who suffer because of the virus.

“Habang wala tayong information, ingat at tuloy-tuloy dapat ‘yung bakuna. At tsaka, kung meron tayong opportunity na pinayagan na tayong magpa-booster shot, mas maganda po ‘yon kasi at least kapag dumating ‘yung Omicron dito, mas meron tayong immunity,” he said.

The Philippines’ red list or those countries temporarily banned include South Africa, Austria, Czech Republic, Hungary, the Netherlands, Switzerland, Belgium, Italy, Botswana, Namibia, Zimbabwe, Lesotho, Eswatini, and Mozambique.  (MNS)

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