Renewed calls to remain strongly vigilant during the holidays were brought up online after the country detected its first cases of the Omicron coronavirus variant believed to be more contagious than Delta.
The Department of Health on Wednesday announced that two “imported” cases of the new variant were detected from the 48 positive samples that were sequenced on Tuesday.
One case is that of a returning overseas Filipino worker who came from Japan on December 1 via Philippine Airlines with flight number PR 0427.
His sample was reportedly collected on December 5 and the positive test result was released on December 7. He is currently asymptomatic but had colds and cough upon arrival.
The other case is that of a Nigerian national who arrived from Nigeria on November 30 via Oman Air with flight number WY 843.
His sample was collected on December 6 and the positive test result was released on December 7. He is also asymptomatic.
Both of them are currently isolated in a facility managed by the Bureau of Quarantine.
The DOH asked the passengers of the mentioned flights to call them at (02) 8942 6843 or 1555, or the number of their respective local government units to report their status.
The detection comes as the government placed the country under COVID-19 Alert Level 2 until the end of December.
This is one tier away from the most lenient alert level.
Alert Level 2, based on guidelines, allows a maximum of 50% venue capacity for authorized indoor settings and 70% capacity for activities held outdoors.
Interzonal and intrazonal movement are also allowed under this alert level.
Gatherings in residences with individuals not belonging to the same household are likewise authorized.
Following the detection, the Palace assured Filipinos that it is closely monitoring the development of the Omicron variant in the country.
“This early detection forms part of our Prevent-Detect-Isolate-Treat-Reintegrate strategy that has been in place all throughout the pandemic,” acting presidential spokesperson Karlo Nograles said in a statement.
“We assure our people that we will closely monitor developments of the two cases in light of existing protocols, as we continue to remind the public not to let their guard down, to religiously observe minimum public health standards, and call upon all those unvaccinated to get their jabs as soon as possible,” he added.
Health Secretary Francisco Duque III also encouraged Filipinos including those who are eligible to get booster shots to get vaccinated as soon as possible.
“We should all be alarmed. Kinakailangan magpabakuna na po tayo. Maganda na po ‘yung unahan po natin. At ito na po ang magandang pagkakataon. Mababa ang kaso natin. Mapanatili nating mababa. Papaano? Dapat ay magpabakuna na,” he said.
The detection of the heavily-mutated COVID-19 variant prompted some Filipinos to raise alarm and remind their fellow citizens to practice strict vigilance, especially with the expected increase in social gatherings this holiday season.
“Tapos Alert Level 2 na ang buong Pilipinas, sana naman ‘wag [nang] mag pasaway ang iba at lagi pa rin mag-face mask at social distancing,” a Twitter user said in response to the reports.
“The PH has recorded its first 2 cases of Omicron variant. As much as it is a ‘weaker’ variant, please continue to observe proper health protocols, more so that the alert level will be drop down to 2 effective by tomorrow until the rest of 2021. Keep safe, everyone,” another online user said.
“May pwede pa tayong gawin bilang mamamayan —MAGPABAKUNA. PAKI KULIT PO ANG MGA SENIORS,” dermatologist Dr. Winlove Mojica said in response to the detection of the Omicron variant.
“Magpapaskong may Omicron sh*t. Please don’t go outside if it’s not important and also stop bringing your kids outside, it’s not safe,” another Twitter user said.
The World Health Organization quickly tagged Omicron as a “variant of concern” after it was initially detected in South Africa.
This puts it at the same level as the Alpha, Beta, Gamma and Delta variants.
WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus on Tuesday said Omicron variant is spreading faster than any previous variant known.
He also expressed worries that some countries are dismissing it as a mild variant despite having no clear data about its severity so far.
“We have learned by now that we underestimate this virus at our peril,” Tedros was quoted as saying.
“Even if omicron does cause less severe disease, the sheer number of cases could once again overwhelm unprepared health system,” he added.
Preliminary lab data previously showed that the new variant significantly reduces protection provided by Pfizer’s two-dose vaccine, although having a booster improves its offered protection.
The United Kingdom has reported at least a single fatality from Omicron coronavirus variant.