THE Philippine government ordered Friday, November 26, the temporary suspension of inbound flights from South Africa and six other countries to prevent the entry of B.1.1.529, a new variant of Sars-CoV-2, which causes the coronavirus disease (Covid-19).

In its Resolution 150-D, the Inter-Agency Task Force (IATF) for the Management of Emerging Infectious Diseases said the B.1.1.529 variant, also known as omicron, has now been classified as a variant under monitoring.

Not much has been known about the new variant but it was first detected in Botswana and then in South Africa. The same strain was detected in Hong Kong after the arrival of a traveler from South Africa.

"Upon the recommendations of its Technical Working Group on Covid-19 Variants, and favorable recommendation of the Department of Health and Department of Foreign Affairs, the border control measures to prevent the entry of the B.1.1.529 variant, which have the potential for increased transmissibility and effect in vaccine efficacy, shall be implemented," said the IATF.

Inbound international flights from South Africa, Botswana, Namibia, Zimbabwe, Lesotho, Eswatini and Mozambique are temporarily suspended effective immediately and until December 15, 2021, it added.

The Bureau of Quarantine was tasked to closely coordinate with local government units (LGUs) and locate travelers from the above-mentioned countries who may have arrived in the recent seven days prior to the temporary suspension of inbound travel.

"These travelers shall be required to undergo full 14-day facility-based quarantine with RT-PCR test on the seventh day or upon location of the passenger, whichever is later, with date of arrival as Day 1," said the IATF.

Passengers coming from or having been to those countries within the last 14 days prior to arrival are also temporarily barred from entering the Philippines.

The IATF clarified, however, that those who are already in transit from those countries, and have been to those territories within the last 14 days immediately preceding arrival to the Philippines and who arrive before November 28 will not be subjected to the above restrictions.

They, however, will be required to undergo stricter quarantine and testing protocols, which include the observation of an "absolute facility-based 14-day quarantine period, notwithstanding a negative RT-PCR result."

All passengers, whether Filipinos or foreigners, who are merely transiting through the countries mentioned above wil be deemed as having come from or having been to those areas if they stayed in the airport the whole time and were not cleared for entry by the immigration authorities.

It added that passengers covered by the measure are required to comply with the existing testing and quarantine protocols.

As of November 26, the Sars-CoV-2 variants detected in the Philippines include the B.1.1.7 (Alpha), B.1.351 (Beta), P.1 (Gamma), and B.1.617 (Delta).

The country has a total of 2,830,387 Covid-19 cases, with 48,017 deaths and 2,764,517 recoveries as of November 26. (SunStar Philippines)