EDITORIAL-Better safe than sorry

The Philippine Star

COVID patients 1 and 2 in the Philippines were Chinese tourists direct from the origin of SARS-CoV-2, Wuhan City, the capital of China’s Hubei province. One of the tourists quickly succumbed to the disease, becoming the first COVID death outside China and the first in the Philippines.

Now, with China ending its zero-COVID policy and lifting its pandemic restrictions, the world is watching with alarm as a surge in infections, driven by the highly infectious Omicron subvariant strain BF.7, overwhelms hospitals and crematoriums across that country.

Amid the surge, Beijing has lifted travel restrictions, with quarantine no longer required for arrivals. This has reportedly encouraged Chinese citizens to plan for overseas travel this January to celebrate the long New Year holiday break.

This has prompted several countries, among them Italy, Japan, India, Malaysia and the United States, to announce COVID safety restrictions for travelers from China, such as negative RT-PCR tests before entry. In the Philippines, it’s Transport Secretary Jaime Bautista who is suggesting that similar restrictions be imposed, while health officials say they see no need.

President Marcos said yesterday he was open to imposing restrictions, without closing the borders to Chinese travelers. Bautista, however, is not proposing to ban the entry of travelers from China. The President himself will be proceeding with his state visit to China this Jan. 3 to 5, with Chinese authorities vowing to provide sufficient protection to the Philippine delegation against COVID infection.

Philippine officials must be mindful of global health experts’ warning that the BF.7 coronavirus strain is showing high immune-evasive properties. The experts are also worried that the spread of BF.7 in a country that is home to 1.4 billion people, many of them only partly vaccinated or unvaccinated against COVID, could give rise to SARS-CoV-2 mutations that are so different from the original strain the existing vaccines no longer work against them.

The Philippines has lifted its COVID state of calamity, and President Marcos has said he sees no need to extend it because the pandemic situation in the country has considerably improved. Health officials, however, stress that the declaration is needed to allow the emergency use of vaccines that have not yet been approved by global authorities for commercial availability.

The improved pandemic situation can also be swiftly reversed if an immune-evasive coronavirus strain rolls back the gains in the fight against COVID. The proposal is to impose certain restrictions but not a ban on travelers from China. Considering what is happening in that country, the proposal deserves consideration. There is no room for complacency. When it comes to COVID, it is still better to be safe than sorry.

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