The Philippines will not be pushing through with its plan to open the borders to foreign nationals who are fully vaccinated against the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) on December 1 due to the threat of the highly mutated Omicron variant.
Cabinet Secretary Karlo Nograles made the statement after the Inter-agency Task Force (IATF) for the Management of Emerging Infectious Diseases allowed on Friday the entry of fully vaccinated foreigners from non-visa-required countries from December 1 to 15, 2021.
In a statement, the acting Palace spokesman said the IATF made the move to temporarily suspend its resolution allowing the entry of foreign nationals during their meeting on November 28, 2021.
The recent turn of events came following the discovery of the Omicron variant which is said to be the “most heavily mutated” COVID-19 strain that was first discovered in South Africa.
With Omicron designated as a variant of concern, Nograles said the IATF approved recommendations to strengthen the COVID-19 response of local government units (LGUs) which include strongly enjoining LGUs to:
- Heighten their alert for increasing and clustering of cases and emphasize the need for active case finding
- Immediately conduct contact tracing and isolation of cases detected from case surveillance among the community, including domestic and international travelers
- Use RT-PCR testing in order to allow for whole-genome sequencing of collected samples
The Regional Epidemiology and Surveillance Units are likewise directed to ensure targeted selection of samples for sequencing and address declining submissions of laboratories and regions from domestic and international travelers.
Meanwhile, the Bureau of Quarantine and the Department of the Interior and Local Government (DILG) with the local government units (LGUs) have been directed to identify and locate passengers from red list territories who arrived within 14 days prior to November 29, 2021. These passengers will be required to complete quarantine under a home quarantine set-up for 14 days from the date of arrival and undergo RT-PCR if symptoms develop.
The IATF placed 14 countries under the red list due to the Omicron variant.
The LGUs and the DILG are further directed to ensure strict implementation and adherence to the Prevent – Detect – Isolate – Test – Reintegrate strategy and adherence and compliance to minimum public health standards (MPHS) with the directive given to the Philippine National Police to enforce MPHS compliance.
In addition, the Department of Health (DOH) is directed to ensure the country’s health system capacity is prepared to address the increase of COVID-19 cases if any; while the Sub-Technical Working Group on Data Analytics is directed to begin preparing models to show the potential impact of the Omicron variant to prevailing protocols and approvals of the IATF.
On Friday afternoon, November 26, Nograles said the Department of Health (DOH) and the IATF are “actively monitoring” the developments.
He added that the government is in constant communication with the World Health Organization (WHO) on the matter.