THE Department of Health (DOH) on Saturday, December 4, 2021, urged local government units (LGUs) to strengthen their coronavirus disease 2019 (Covid-19) testing amid the threat of its more transmissible and infectious variant, Omicron.

DOH undersecretary Maria Rosario Vergeire said although Omicron is yet to be detected in the country, early implementation of safety and preventive measures against it is better to lessen its impact on people’s lives.

She said around 18,000 samples, particularly from returning Filipinos, have undergone genome sequencing, but none of it turned out to be positive for Omicron.

“Wala naman tayong nakikitaan na mga lugar sa ating bansa ngayon na merong biglang pagtaas ng mga kaso o nagka-cluster ng infections because that can be one of the determinants kung saka-sakali na nakapasok na itong Omicron variant because if you see in the other countries, nagpuputukan po ang mga kaso nila," she said during a televised press briefing.

(We don't see any places in our country today that have a sudden increase in cases or clusters of infections because that can be one of the determinants if by chance this Omicron variant has entered. If you see in other countries, their cases are rising.)

Over the past 12 days, daily Covid-19 cases in the Philippines did not exceed 1,000, which, according to Vergeire, indicates that the Covid-19 situation in the country is getting better.

She said the drop of Covid-19 cases in the country will continue as long as the Omicron variant will not enter the country and this can be done through strict border control.

Vergeire said the Omicron variant may cause another Covid-19 case upsurge and LGUs should prepare for the “worst-case scenario” as early as now.

"Yes, this variant has a lot of mutations na kailangan po cautious tayo...But hindi po natin kailangan mag-panic at matakot. Kailangan lang po sumunod tayo sa ating mga safety protocols," she said.

(Yes, this variant has a lot of mutations that we need to be cautious about... but we don't need to panic and be afraid. We just need to follow our safety protocols.)

The national government has earlier imposed restrictions on flights coming from Austria, Czech Republic, Hungary, The Netherlands, Switzerland, Belgium, Italy, South Africa, Botswana, Namibia, Zimbabwe, Lesotho, Eswatini and Mozambique where local cases of Omicron variant have been detected.

Passengers who come from or have been to these countries over the last 14 days are not allowed to enter the Philippines.

The Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) said nearly a hundred Filipinos were stranded in these countries.

Foreign Affairs Undersecretary Sarah Lou Arriola, however, said the Philippine government will conduct repatriation flights in the said countries from December 10 to 13.

Vergeire said currently, 253 individuals arrived in the country from South Africa before the implementation of the flight ban under monitoring. They also underwent another swab testing and isolation.

Meanwhile, Department of Science and Technology vaccine expert panel chairperson Doctor Nina Gloriano urged the public to get booster Covid-19 shots as a preventive measure against the Omicron variant.

The World Health Organization earlier said vaccines still provide the best protection against the Covid-19 although manufacturers are yet to provide complete evidence on its efficacy against the Omicron variant.