HEALTH Secretary Francisco Duque said on Monday, November 29, 2021, that the Omicron variant (B.1.1.529) of the Sars-CoV-2, which causes the coronavirus disease (Covid-19), will surely get into the country.

"It’s not a matter of if, it’s a matter of when, so talagang 'yan po, papasok yan just as we have experienced with Alpha, Delta, among the more compelling variants of concern," Duque responded, as President Rodrigo Duterte asked him of the possibility that the highly mutated Omicron variant will enter the country.

Duque emphasized the three major interventions necessary as the country prepares for the said strain. These include the strict compliance to minimum health standards, vaccination of more people and the strengthening of the country’s health systems capacity for the worst scenario.

He also reiterated the importance of reimposition of the mandatory wearing of face shields in closed and crowded spaced and in close-contact settings, including in public transportation, as an added layer of protection against Covid-19.

Duterte then ordered the Inter-Agency Task Force (IATF) on Emerging Infectious Diseases to discuss the face shield policy.

Interior and Local Government Secretary Eduardo Año said the face shield policy was not disregarded but was integrated in the alert level system.

Under Alert Level 1 to 3, the wearing of face shield is voluntary, while under Alert Level 4, local government units have the discretion to require its use.

The use of face shield is mandatory only in areas under Alert Level 5.

“Pag pumasok ang Omicron at tumaas ang alert level, ii-impose ulit natin (ang face shield policy). Ang face shield parang payong pag malakas ang ulan nagpapayong tayo, pero pag wala nang ulan, pwede itabi na muna ‘yung payong pero pag uulan or maulap, magdadala ng payong,” said Año.

Meanwhile, Transportation Secretary Arthur Tugade said that while it is important to prepare for the effects of Omicron variant, preventing it from entering the Philippines is also vital.

“Hindi lang kontrolin ang Omicron pag pumasok na, ang mahalaga kontrolin natin na huwag pumasok o bawasan ang oportunidad na pumasok,” he said.

Infectious disease specialist Dr. Edsel Salvaña said aside from the interventions mentioned by Duque, the imposition of strict border control to prevent the Omicron variant from entering the country is also very important.

The National Government has imposed ban on flights coming from Austria, Czech Republic, Hungary, The Netherlands, Switzerland, Belgium, Italy, South Africa, Botswana, Namibia, Zimbabwe, Lesotho, Eswatini and Mozambique where there were already local cases of Omicron.

Año said the government also instituted border controls in the southeast porous, which serves as a gateway for Filipinos coming in from Sabah, Malaysia and Indonesia without having to pass through in sea and airports.

The Philippines is yet to record Omicron cases in the country but Philippine Genome Center executive director Dr. Cynthia Saloma said they are backtracking and retesting samples from early November, particularly from those who tested positive for the virus upon arrival in the country.

Dr. Eva Cutiongco of the National Institutes of Health said they are encouraging laboratories in the country to submit to them samples, especially those from returning overseas Filipinos, for the conduct of genomic sequencing. (SunStar Philippines)