Philippines to end year under Alert Level 2 vs COVID-19

Philippines to end year under Alert Level 2 vs COVID-19
The aisle of Taytay Tiangge (flea market) in Taytay, Rizal is filled with customers looking for cheap clothes a few days before Christmas on Dec. 13, 2021
The STAR / Michael Varcas

MANILA, Philippines — The Philippines will remain under Alert Level 2 until December 31 despite a continued decline in new cases due to the looming threat of the potentially more infectious Omicron coronavirus variant.

Cabinet Secretary Karlo Nograles, who is the spokesperson of the government’s pandemic task force, made the announcement on Wednesday.

The Department of Health earlier Wednesday said it would be better to be prudent and maintain the alert level against COVID-19.

"We are still very hesitant to give that kind of easing of restrictions into Alert Level 1 because of the threat of the Omicron variant," Health Undersecretary Maria Rosario Vergeire told CNN Philippines’ "The Source."

"So for now, we will stay in Alert Level 2 so that there would still be restrictions and we can still prevent the spread if ever that Omicron is here already, of this variant among our communities," Vergeire, who is DOH spokesperson, added.

The entire country was initially place under Alert Level 2 from December 3 to December 15.

New COVID-19 cases in the country plunged to a nearly 19-month low on Tuesday from a peak of over 26,000 in September amid a surge driven by the Delta variant.

The decrease in cases has prompted a rapid relaxation of coronavirus curbs, but the Philippines’ borders tightened anew as the World Health Organization designated Omicron as a variant of concern.

A technical brief from the WHO updated last Friday said that according to current limited evidence, it appears that it has a growth advantage over the already infectious Delta variant.

"Given the current available data, it is likely that Omicron will outpace the Delta variant where community transmission occurs," the WHO said.

The Philippines, among the countries worst hit by the pandemic in Southeast Asia in terms of the number of infections, the death toll and the economic impact, is just starting to recover from the outbreak, but this could be disrupted by the entrance of the Omicron variant.

The government has said it is readying itself for the potential entry of the Omicron variant, although the details of such a preparation are scant. — Xave Gregorio

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