(Art by Zymon M. Gailo/The Varsitarian)

THE PHILIPPINES has detected its first cases of the Omicron variant amid declining Covid-19 cases.

The Omicron variant, or B.1.1.529, was found in the samples of a returning Filipino worker from Japan and a Nigerian, who arrived here from his home country, the Department of Health (DOH) confirmed on Dec. 15.

It was first detected in South Africa and has since been tagged as a “variant of concern” by the World Health Organization (WHO).

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the Omicron variant is likely more transmissible than the original SARS-CoV-2 virus. 

Current vaccines will still protect against severe illness and hospitalization, however, breakthrough infections in fully vaccinated people are likely to occur, it added.

The Omicron variant also appears to spread faster than Delta, which caused sweeping surges in different nations in the last months, according to WHO Southeast Asia regional director Dr. Poonam Khetrapal Singh. 

Fr. Nicanor Austriaco, O.P., a molecular biologist and professor in the UST Department of Biological Sciences, urged the public to get vaccinated to prevent the variant’s spread.

“For those who are vaccinated against Covid-19, [the symptoms of Omicron variant] appear to be very mild. That’s why it’s so important to stress to our kababayans not yet vaccinated that this is the time to go get vaccinated before Omicron arrives,” he told the Varsitarian.

“We have to maintain the minimum health standards. We have to maintain face masks, wash our hands, maintain social distancing, especially when we are present with our lolos and lolas.”

The World Health Organization also called on the public to take public health and social measures which include surveillance and response such as testing, genetic sequencing, contact tracing, isolation, and quarantine.

Despite the continued decline in new cases, the country will remain under Alert Level 2 until the end year, according to Cabinet Secretary Karlo Nograles on Dec. 15.

Areas under Alert Level 2 are classified as having low case transmission and healthcare utilization. Meanwhile, there are no age-based mobility restrictions and more businesses and activities such as dine-in restaurants and personal care services are allowed.

The government is also eyeing to administer seven million more vaccine doses to bring the total number of fully vaccinated individuals to 54 million by the end of the year. To date, 43 million have completed their Covid-19 vaccination. Louise Marie Therese B. Padillo and Adrian L. Parungao


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