Christmas outlook remains 'positive' despite threat of Omicron variant, says OCTA

Published December 3, 2021, 4:59 PM

by Ellalyn De Vera-Ruiz

The Manila Hotel’s Christmas Tree (NOEL PABALATE)

Independent research group OCTA is still optimistic that the Philippines will have a “merry” Christmas this year even with the looming threat of the Omicron variant of coronavirus disease (COVID-19).

“The outlook of OCTA is clear, it’s optimistic, it’s positive for the month of December. We are going to have a merry Christmas this year,” said OCTA research fellow and University of the Philippines (UP) professor Ranjit Rye in a webicon organized by the Cardinal Santos Medical Center on Friday, Dec. 3.

OCTA fellow and University of Santo Tomas visiting professor Nicanor Austriaco said the Philippines is currently “at the best place in 20 months.”

“We have much to be thankful for this year. This is the best place that the Philippines has been since before the first wave [of COVID-19 pandemic]. It is very different now. With substantial immunity, our hospitals are much better equipped, our nursing staff, health care workers are much more experienced, they know how to deal with COVID-19,” he said.

OCTA fellow and UP professor Guido David pointed out that the Omicron variant may not affect the holiday celebration.

“We will have a merry Christmas even with the worst-case scenario, it’s not going to affect our December holidays. It may be late January before that happens. But that’s the worst-case scenario. I am actually very hopeful and very optimistic this time. Last year, we actually had good numbers, less than 2,000 cases per day. The main difference is that there was still a high level of uncertainty last year. We were not sure what to expect because of variants coming out all over the world and we didn’t have vaccines yet. But now we have vaccines, cases have dropped to very low levels. I really think we will have a very good 2022,” he said.

Citing available data on the Omicron variant, David said “the threat of a surge is not that high or if there will be a surge it will not be the kind of surge that we have seen in the past due to the Delta, or even the Alpha and Beta.”

“In a worst-case scenario, it could be a light surge,” he pointed out. “The threat of another lockdown in the NCR is much, much lower based on this preliminary information.”

“Of course, we have to be circumspect still. We still have to practice minimum public health standards. Even if we have a spike in cases due to the Omicron, I don’t think it will be as bad as what we had in the past because of the vaccinations, because of our experience and exposure. I don’t think we will have lockdowns anymore even next year, even if the Omicron comes. We’ll be able to manage it. We’re very, very hopeful. Let’s keep our positive mentality for Christmas and for next year,” David said.

But while the outlook is positive, the OCTA researchers reminded Filipinos to continue to practice minimum public health standards and urged the government to intensify its testing, contact tracing, and isolation of COVID-19 cases.

“For Filipinos, this is our favorite time so we should celebrate and thank God for all the great gifts. At the same time, we have to be careful and prudent. We should not do things that are unnecessarily risky because COVID is still there,” Austriaco said.

Rye noted that what individuals do is more important than any government intervention in dealing with the COVID-19 pandemic.

“We have to be mindful of our important role in sustaining the downward trend. We have to be mindful that our biggest enemy apart from Omicron and COVID is really complacency, overconfidence, and irresponsible behavior. If we’re mindful of all of that, I don’t see any problem over the next few weeks. We even feel that the numbers will continue to go down even with so much mobility,” Rye pointed out.

“As long as we continue to wear [face] mask, follow the minimum public health standards–social distancing, proper hygiene, avoiding crowds–we will be able to contribute to sustaining the positive trends,” he added.