The potentially more transmissible Omicron coronavirus variant has not been detected in the country yet, health authorities said on Saturday, Dec. 4.
“So far, wala pa tayong na detect na Omicron sa 18,000 [positive samples] na nai-sequence natin (So far, we have not detected Omicron in the 18,000 [positive samples] we have sequenced),” said Philippine Genome Center (PGC) Executive Director Dr. Cynthia Saloma in a public briefing.
When asked if the presence of the Omicron variant is already in the Philippines but it is still undetected, Department of Health (DOH) Undersecretary Maria Rosario Vergeire believes that is not the case at the moment.
“Wala naman tayong nakikitaan na mga lugar sa ating bansa ngayon na may biglang pagtaas ng mga kaso or cluster of infections because that can be one of the determinants kung saka-sakali na nakapasok na itong Omicron variant (Currently, we don’t see any areas in our country with a sudden increase in cases or clusters of infection because that can be one of the determinants if this Omicron variant has already entered here),” said Vergeire.
“Because if you see in the other countries, nagpuputukan ang mga kaso nila, biglang tumataas ang numero. Dito naman sa ating bansa ay hindi natin nakikita. Sa tingin ko sa ngayon, hindi pa nakakapasok ang variant na ito sa ating bansa. Patuloy natin imomonitor iyan (their cases are suddenly increasing. Here in our country, we do not observe that. I think this variant has not yet entered our country. But, we will continue to monitor that),” she added.
Meanwhile, the samples of the three travelers from South Africa, Burkina Faso, and Egypt who tested positive for COVID-19 will be subjected to genome sequencing to determine if they have the Omicron variant, said Vergeire.
“Kakasumite palang po ng mga samples nila, I think yesterday, kaya kasama iyan sa batch na ipro-proseso palang ng Philippine Genome Center (We already submitted their samples, I think yesterday. So that would be included in the batch that will be processed by the Philippine Genome Center),” she said.
Saloma said they already received 242 positive samples of inbound travelers that entered the Philippines last November. These samples will be undergoing genome sequencing, she said.
She assured that the PGC has sufficient kits to conduct whole genome sequencing.
“Mayroon naman po tayong sufficient kits for the rest of the year and also up to the first quarter of next year na makagawa po tayo ng whole genome sequence (We have sufficient kits for the rest of the year and also up to the first quarter of next year to conduct a whole genome sequence),” she said.
The public should continue to be vigilant and health facilities should stay prepared amid the threat of the Omicron variant, said Saloma.
“Ang sinasabi namin, it’s not a question of if it is here, it’s a question of when. Kaya kailangan po tayo maghanda saka yung ating mga healthcare facilities ma-improve natin (What we’re saying is, it’s not a question of if it’s here, it’s a question of when. So we need to prepare and improve the capacities of our healthcare facilities),” she said.
“Nakita din natin sa cases sa ibang bansa na kailangan ng vaccination at the same time mag practice pa rin ng mga minimum health standards (We have also seen the experiences of other countries that vaccination is needed and at the same time we still need to practice the minimum health standards),” she added.