Recognizing that it’s “a matter of time” before the new coronavirus variant Omicron gets into the Philippines, acting presidential spokesman Karlo Nograles said on Wednesday, Dec. 8, that the country is “buying time” to delay its entry and beefing up current health care resources.
Nograles told CNN’s The Source that the government is also awaiting word from the World Health Organization (WHO) about the possible transmissibility of the new variant, which has so far been detected in over a dozen countries, including neighboring Hong Kong.
“While awaiting the final word from the WHO, what we are doing right now is we are stepping up our four-door strategy in terms of preventing entry of this Omicron variant,” he said.
The Philippines’ four-door strategy includes strengthening restrictions, testing for international foreign travelers including returning overseas Filipinos, PDITR strategy at community level, and possible granular lockdowns if needed.
PDITR means prevention, detection, isolation, treatment, and reintegration.
“That being said, the reason why we are stepping up the four-door strategy is, again, to delay the entry like what all health experts say, it’s just a matter of time Omicron variant will come into the shore,” Nograles added.
The WHO has yet to issue a final study on whether Omicron is more transmissible than other variants, including the currently dominant one, Delta. It, however, said that new variants of the coronavirus are usually more transmissible because it has to compete with existing variants.
If anything, preliminary studies showed that Omicron is not causing more severe infections than Delta or other past variants.
So far, Omicron, which was first detected in South Africa more than two weeks ago, has been detected in Australia, Austria, Belgium, Botswana, Canada, Czech Republic, Denmark, Germany, Hong Kong, Israel, Italy, the Netherlands, Portugal, South Africa, Spain, and United Kingdom.
While the Health department has yet to detect Omicron in the country, Nograles said they are preparing before the worst-case scenario. They are also monitoring the countries with cases of the Omicron variant.
He added that the government is closely monitoring European countries because the WHO said that the continent is the new epicenter of COVID.
“If we need to, let us say, red-list a country or several countries once we see that the indicators for red listing of a country are met then we, at the IATF (Inter-Agency Task Force for Emerging Infection Diseases), will not hesitate to red list more countries,” the official explained.
The task force usually updates the list of countries every 15 days unless there is an immediate need to do so.
Currently, the Philippines’ red list includes South Africa, Botswana, Namibia, Zimbabwe, Lesotho, Eswatini, Mozambique, Austria, the Czech Republic, Hungary, the Netherlands, Switzerland, Belgium, and Italy until December 15.
Nograles maintained that Filipinos have to learn “to live with this virus” because Omicron will not be the last variant.
He noted that vaccination and adherence to health protocols and public health standards are the ways people can protect themselves from Omicron and other COVID-19 variants.