TWO doctors who are holding high positions in their respective organizations in Davao City are supporting the reimposition of the "test before travel" for passengers traveling to the city amid the ongoing spike of Covid-19 cases in Metro Manila suspected to be caused by the Omicron variant.

Metropolitan Davao Medical Society (MDMS) president Dr. Jose G. Beltran Jr. told SunStar Davao in a phone interview Tuesday afternoon, January 4, 2022, that reimposing the mandatory negative reverse transcription-polymerase chain reaction (RT-PCR) to all arriving passengers in the city would be an appropriate biosecurity measure to prevent the possible entry of the highly infectious Omicron variant in the city.

"Wala baya ta kabalo unsa ang gidala sa mga passengers, especially mga asymptomatic carriers (We do not know what variant these passengers, including those asymptomatic, are carrying with them). So whether they carry the Delta or Omicron, wala ta kabalo (we don’t know for sure). Mas maayo nga i-screen gyud sila (It’s best if we screen them.) I think that's the safest way," Beltran said.

He added that this strategy would immediately detect those who would test positive and immediately place them under mandatory quarantine.

Beltran said he is alarmed with the recent detection of the Omicron variant in the Philippines, which is currently at 14.

The MDMS head said Omicron, based on recent studies, showed that it is more virulent and can infect more people compared to earlier detected variants like Delta.

He said, though, that no studies had proven that it is deadlier compared to other variants.

He also agreed to reimposing the wearing of face shields and the restriction of non-essential travels after noticing that many people went to the mall or have attended mass gatherings during the holidays.

Southern Philippines Medical Center (SPMC) Chief Dr. Ricardo Audan, in a separate phone interview, said he supports the policy regulating the entry of domestic travelers in the city by requiring a negative RT-PCR test result.

"Yan gusto ko (I am in favor of it) especially those from Luzon and Visayas going to Davao. I support the reinstatement of the memo requiring passengers traveling to Davao, they must present negative RT-PCR," Audan said.

The SPMC official said bed capacities in the hospital, currently the lone Covid-19 referral hospital in the city, is still under "safe zone" level, which means they have not yet noted an increase of bed occupancy.

But Audan said they are already anticipating the projected surge of cases in the city before the end of January.

He added that they will implement the same strategy they did when the hospital experienced an overwhelming admission of patients in late September until October 2021.

As of December 31, 2021, SPMC's intensive care unit (ICU) bed utilization rate was at 21.67 percent, which means 13 only out of the 60 beds are occupied. As for the ward beds, 72 out of the 308 beds were occupied, or a utilization rate of 23.38 percent.

According to SPMC and the Department of Health's (DOH's) critical utilization rate, an occupancy level that is between 71 and 100 percent is considered a "danger zone"; an occupancy rate level between 31 to 70 percent is considered a "warning zone"; and under "safe zone" when it is from 1 to 30 percent.

Davao City Mayor Sara Duterte-Carpio said in a radio interview on Monday, January 3, that the city is not discussing the reimposition of the "test before travel" policy as of now.

City Tourism Operations Office (CTOO) head Generose Tecson had already confirmed that the city will not reimpose travel restrictions or additional requirements for inbound domestic travelers despite Metro Manila being placed under Alert Level 3.

Tecson emphasized in a previous interview that Executive Order (EO) 66, ordering the removal of the requirement of 24 to 72-hour negative RT-PCR via land, sea, and air travel to the city, is still in effect.

The city discontinued the mandatory RT-PCR test results to all travelers entering the city effective November 16, 2021. This came after the city was downgraded to Alert Level 2 brought about by the continuing downtrend of Covid-19 cases.

Meanwhile, in a Facebook post, the CTOO reminded tourists to ensure that they book their hotels and tours with establishments that have valid business permits.

The office added that the city still follows the guidelines of the IATF for international travelers at Francisco Bangoy International Airport.