Omicron variant not yet detected in Philippines

Omicron variant not yet detected in Philippines
Residents wait for their turn to be vaccinated inside a mall in Manila City, on November 29, 2021, as the Southeast Asian nation launched a three-day vaccination drive targeting nine million people as young as 12 in an effort to accelerate the roll-out of jabs, amidst the threat of heavily mutated coronavirus variant Omicron
AFP / Ted Aljibe

MANILA, Philippines — Health authorities have yet to detect the potentially more infectious Omicron variant, but acknowledged that it is only a matter of time until the much-feared coronavirus variant arrives in the country.

Health Undersecretary Maria Rosario Vergeire said that as of December 9, samples that underwent whole genome sequencing were all cleared for Omicron, including the sample from a traveler from South Africa, where the variant of concern was first detected.

“Lumabas po iyong sequencing result na ito po ay isang variant na B.1.1.203,” Vergeire said. “Hindi po siya Omicron. Hindi rin po siya iyong mga variants na binabantayan natin dito sa bansa. Ito po ay hindi variant of concern or variant of interest.”

(The sequencing results revealed that this is the B.1.1.203 variant. This is not Omicron. This is also not one of the variants that we are monitoring here in the country. This is not a variant of concern or variant of interest.)

The World Health Organization said 57 countries have so far reported the Omicron variant, which is feared to be more infectious although more data is needed to determine this and its severity.

Since the WHO designated Omicron as a variant of concern, the Philippines tightened its borders anew and required all travelers to get tested before arrival, undergo quarantine once they get to the country and get tested again while isolating.

But local health authorities recognize that border controls will not keep Omicron out.

“From the start, sinabi na natin na hindi naman po masasabi at hindi natin sasabihin definitely na hindi makakapasok. Ang pinaguusapan natin diyan, kung kailan as to when it will enter the country,” Vergeire said.

(From the start, we’ve been saying that we cannot say and we will not say that it will definitely not enter. What we’re talking about here is when it will enter the country.)

She added, “The chances are there. Mataas po ang tsansa na makapasok dito sa atin. At tayo naman po ay nagpe-prepare.”

(The chances are there. There is a high chance that it will enter our country. And we are preparing for that.)

The Philippines is one of the worst-hit by the pandemic in Southeast Asia, but has rapidly reopened its economy as the number of new infections drop to 17-month lows from a peak of over 26,000 in September. — Xave Gregorio

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