MANILA, Philippines – Department of Health (DOH) Secretary Francisco Duque III believes that it is only a matter of time before the newly discovered Omicron COVID-19 variant reaches the country.
“It’s not a matter of ‘if,’ okay? It’s a matter of ‘when’,” said Duque when asked by President Rodrigo Duterte on the possibility of the Omicron variant entering the Philippines.
“So talagang iyan po, papasok ‘yan just as we have experienced with Alpha, Beta, Delta among the more compelling variants of concern, Mr. President,” he added.
Duque said that with the looming threat of the highly mutated and potentially more contagious variant, the Philippine government should intensify its major interventions against COVID-19.
These include the strict enforcement of the minimum public health standards, including the continued wearing of face masks and even face shields.
“Ang talagang face shield ay under the three 3C — 3Cs context in the closed spaces, mga-face shield, in crowded areas, in close-contact settings just like in the transport sector where people as we have increased the carrying capacities of our public utility vehicles. I think now with the threat of this Omicron variant, it will be an added layer of protection that will really be good for the public,” he said.
Duque also underscored the need for the country to widen its vaccination coverage to achieve herd immunity and have an edge against the new coronavirus variant.
“Massive vaccination rollout under your directive, Mr. President; we need to really widen and increase the vaccination coverage to reach population protection,” he said.
“Of course, the first milestone by the end of December 31st, we hope to be able to completely jab 54 million Filipinos and then by February of 2022, we should be able to realistically achieve 77 million Filipinos to be completely inoculated,” he added.
He then emphasized the importance of strengthening and preparing the country’s health systems capacity.
“Let’s take advantage of our low number of cases and prepare the health systems capacity again for the worst-case scenario,” he said.
The Omicron variant has yet to be detected in the Philippines.
To prevent its entry into the country, the government has expanded the Red List of countries that have reported the presence of the variant.
The Philippine government has recently expanded the Red List to include Austria, Czech Republic, Hungary, The Netherlands, Switzerland, Belgium, and Italy. This is in addition to South Africa, Botswana, Namibia, Zimbabwe, Lesotho, Eswatini, and Mozambique that were earlier placed in the Red List due to the threat of Omicron, which was first detected in the region.
The Red List, which is effective from November 28 until December 15, means that travelers, regardless of their vaccination status, coming from or who have been to the Red List areas within the last 14 days prior to their arrival will not be allowed to enter the Philippines.
Only Filipinos returning to the country via government-initiated or non-government-initiated repatriation and Bayanihan Flights may be allowed entry. However, they will be subject to the prevailing entry, testing, and quarantine protocols for Red List territories.