Gov't may suspend flights from Hong Kong due to COVID-19 variant fears

Gov't may suspend flights from Hong Kong due to COVID-19 variant fears
This undated National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, NIH handout photo obtained August 1, 2021, shows a transmission electron color-enhanced micrograph of SARS-CoV-2 virus particles, isolated from a patient.
Handout / National Institutes of Health / National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases / AFP

MANILA, Philippines — The Philippines is considering suspending flights coming from Hong Kong after a case of the new and potentially more infectious Omicron variant of the coronavirus was detected in the territory, the National Task Force Against COVID-19 said Sunday.

This comes after inbound international flights from South Africa and Botswana were already canceled due to the threat of the B.1.1.529 variant, which was classified as a variant of concern by the World Health Organization.

In a statement, the NTF said that the Technical Working Group on COVID-19 Variants and other agencies issued a final recommendation to do so pending the approval of the Inter-Agency Task Force on Emerging Infectious Diseases. 

"The inclusion of Hong Kong Flights as part of inbound international flights temporarily suspended due to the emergence of the Omicron variant is not yet final. We await the formal announcement from the IATF," the statement read. 

Speaking in an interview over dzMM TeleRadyo, NTF spokesperson Restituto Padilla said that all countries where the variant was detected was banned, which may now include Hong Kong after the discovery of a case there. 

"The movement of Filipinos is not prohibited but the flights that they will get on to return are banned. So they have no means to come here," he said in mixed Filipino and English. 

As it currently stands, the IATF has also restricted travel from Namibia, Zimbabwe, Lesotho, Eswatini and Mozambique, which are adjacent to South Africa and Botswana.

"This variant has a large number of mutations, some of which are concerning," the World Health Organization has said of the variant, pointing to worrying characteristics.

"Preliminary evidence suggests an increased risk of reinfection with this variant, as compared to other VOCs," the WHO also said, though it clarified that it could take several weeks to complete studies of Omicron to see if there are any changes in transmissibility, severity or implications for COVID vaccines, tests, and treatments.

with reports from Agence France-Presse 

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