‘Extend travelers’ quarantine period amid threat of new COVID variant’

MANILA (UPDATE) – On Sunday, a health expert urged the government to extend the quarantine period for travelers entering the Philippines and ban flights from more countries because of the threat of a new and potentially more contagious variant of COVID-19.

Dr Tony Leachon, a former adviser to the government’s response to COVID-19, said the country should consider reinstating the 14-day quarantine period for travellers as a measure to prevent the spread of the Omicron variant in the country.

“This should be reviewed and returned to stricter isolation, as these variants increase its spread,” said Dr. Tony Leachon told ABS-CBN’s TeleRadyo that he referred to the Inter-Agency Task Force (IATF) policy on quarantine periods.

(The policy should be revised. We should revert to stricter quarantines, as these variants increase the risk of transmission.)

Currently, travelers from “yellow list” regions who are fully vaccinated against COVID-19 will undergo a 3-day facility quarantine upon arrival in the Philippines if they have a negative RT-PCR test result within 72 hours prior to departure.

These travelers are tested for COVID-19 on the third day, and the arrival date is considered the first day. They were released from facility quarantine after receiving negative RT-PCR tests.

Those who do not have a negative RT-PCR test result will need to remain in the facility quarantine until a negative test result is issued, take a swab test on day 5 of arrival, and be quarantined at home for 10 days upon arrival.

Fully vaccinated Filipinos arriving from “green list” areas will not be required to undergo facility quarantine and swab testing on arrival if they provide a negative RT-PCR test within 72 hours prior to departure.

Those who do not have a negative RT-PCR test result are required to undergo a swab test on arrival, facility-based quarantine until a negative result is issued, and self-monitoring for 14 days upon arrival.

Meanwhile, fully vaccinated foreigners from “green list” countries must present a negative RT-PCR test result within 72 hours before departure and undergo 14 days of self-monitoring upon arrival. They do not need to stay in facility-based isolation and swab tests on arrival.

Leachon said the Philippines should prioritize banning travelers from Hong Kong after a case of the Omicron variant was detected in a nearby area. The city-state is on the government’s “green list”.

“I would probably ban Hong Kong first because it’s so close … many of our compatriots are returning home,” he said.

(I would probably ban travelers from Hong Kong first because it’s so close…we have a lot of Filipinos coming home from there.)

The Philippine Department of Health (DOH) said Saturday that Philippine authorities are already considering the possibility of banning Hong Kong travelers, and Health Secretary Francisco Duque III said a recommendation has been made to Malacañang.

The Philippines earlier suspended flights from South Africa, where the new variant was first detected, as well as Botswana, Namibia, Zimbabwe, Lesotho, Swaziland and Mozambique.

South Africa, Namibia and Zimbabwe are on the Philippines’ green list, according to the latest IATF resolution issued on November 11 last year. The other four are on the “yellow list”.

For Leachon, the Philippines should use Israel, which has banned all foreigners from entering its country, as its “example” for border control in the spread of the new variant.

Leachon said the country should remain at alert level 2 until the end of the year and only ease to level 1, if any, in January.

He added that the government should also speed up the pace of COVID-19 vaccinations to prepare the population for a potential surge caused by the new variant.

The Philippines has fully vaccinated nearly 35 million people, about 45 percent of the country’s target of 77.1 million to achieve herd immunity against COVID-19. 44.5 million people received their first dose of the vaccine.

Meanwhile, the Philippine Red Cross (PRC) said it was preparing in case new variants were discovered in the country.

China’s chairman, Senator Richard Gordon, said in a statement that those preparations included the purchase of additional personal protective equipment and the strengthening of molecular laboratories and testing centers.

Gordon reminded the public to continue to follow health protocols.

“Social distancing and limited population movement remain the best defenses to win our war against Covid as (there are) breakthrough infections [the] vaccinated,” he said.

Gordon also urged people to get tested for COVID-19, as even fully vaccinated people can catch the virus and infect others.

The World Health Organization has classified Omicron as a “worrisome variant”, saying it could spread faster than other forms of the virus.

Preliminary evidence about the new variant points to an increased risk of reinfection and “adverse changes in the epidemiology of COVID-19,” the WHO said.

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