COVID-19: Philippines Detects First Omicron Cases

Aie Balagtas See
2021.12.15
Manila
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COVID-19: Philippines Detects First Omicron Cases A woman with a face mask on looks out from her car window at a fast-food restaurant’s drive-thru lane decorated for Christmas in Taguig city, Metro Manila, Dec. 2, 2021.
Basilio Sepe/BenarNews

The Philippines has detected its first two cases of the Omicron coronavirus variant in travelers arriving here from overseas in recent weeks, the Department of Health announced Wednesday.

The two who tested positive were a Filipino citizen who returned to the Philippines from Japan on Dec. 1, and a Nigerian national who arrived in Manila from Nigeria on Nov. 30, health officials said. These new cases add to a handful of infections reported in Southeast Asian countries since the Omicron strain was first detected in Botswana, in southern Africa, last month.

“Two imported cases of the Omicron variant of concern were detected from the 48 samples sequenced [on] December 14,” the Department of Health (DOH) said.

The duo who tested positive for the variant have been found and are quarantining in government-run facilities, the department said.

The Filipino had a cold and flu upon arrival but was currently asymptomatic. The Nigerian had also shown no symptoms of COVID-19.

Although weeks have passed since their arrival, the government acknowledged that it had yet to establish who their close contacts were.

The department said it was still “verifying the test results and health status of all passengers of these flights to determine if there are other confirmed cases or passengers who became symptomatic after arrival.”

In the United States, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) said it was collaborating with global public health and industry partners to learn about Omicron, as the government agency continued to monitor the strain’s course.

“We don’t yet know how easily it spreads, the severity of illness it causes, or how well available vaccines and medications work against it,” the CDC said in information updated on its website as of Tuesday.

Meanwhile, lab tests undertaken by microbiologists at the University of Hong Kong showed that most individuals who had received two doses of the Chinese-made CoronaVac vaccine or the U.S. and German-made Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine “do not produce sufficient levels of serum antibodies against the new Omicron virus variant.”

The Philippines is among Asian countries that have received supplies of both of these vaccines against the Coronavirus disease.

On Wednesday, Cambodia also confirmed its first Omicron case after a 23-year-old Khmer woman tested positive after returning from Ghana, a country near Nigeria, according to a report by Reuters.

In early December, Singapore was the first Southeast Asian country to detect cases from the strain, followed by neighboring Malaysia.

In the Philippines as of Wednesday, the latest figures from the DOH showed that more than 2.8 million Filipinos have been infected with COVID-19 since the start of the pandemic early last year. There were also 100 new deaths, bringing the death toll to 50,449.

For months, international watchers ranked the nation as one of the worst-performing countries because of poor data management, insufficient health-care facilities, and the militarization and politicization of its response to the pandemic.

The government has credited its massive inoculation program for preventing a new wave of the disease, although the health department has said that little is still known about Omicron.

About 40 million of the country’s 110 million population have already been fully vaccinated, and the government this month launched a massive vaccination drive meant to get infections under control.

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