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Seven of 8 Omicron close contacts test negative


SEVEN of the eight people who had close contact with two carriers of the highly mutated Omicron coronavirus variant in the Philippines have tested negative, according to the Department of Health (DoH).

The only close contact of a returning Filipino from Japan tested negative for the coronavirus on Dec. 4, Health Undersecretary Maria Rosario S. Vergeire told a televised news briefing on Thursday.

Six of the seven people who had close contact with a Nigerian who came to the Philippines this month had also tested negative, she added. Health authorities had yet to find his seventh close contact.

The Philippines on Wednesday reported its first two cases of the Omicron variant, which the World Health Organization (WHO) said was spreading faster globally than any previous strain.

One was a returning Filipino from Japan who arrived on Dec. 1 via Philippine Airlines and the other was a Nigerian who arrived on Nov. 30 via Oman Air.

Both were currently not showing symptoms, but the Filipino had a cold and cough when he arrived, DoH said on Wednesday. Both were under quarantine.

Ms. Vergeire said the 48-year-old Filipino had only close contact because he was seated in the business class of Philippine Airlines flight PR 0427.

The Nigerian was seated at the back of the plane of Oman Air flight WY 843. People seated in front of him and by his side were tagged as close contacts, Ms. Vergeire said.

“Passengers of the plane with individuals who carried the Omicron variant got quarantined for five days and were tested,” she said in Filipino. “They tested negative so they went home.”

“They are not a threat to our community,” Ms. Vergeire said.” Chances are low they have the illness.”

Both Omicron variant patients have been isolated and were closely being monitored with continuous RT-PCR tests.

Passengers of both flights should monitor themselves and contact DOH or their local government if they show any symptoms, Ms. Vergeire said.

She added that there was no need to raise coronavirus lockdown levels for now. All provinces and cities will be under Alert Level 2 for the rest of the year.

“We do not need to panic,” Ms. Vergeire said. “We just need to be cautious. We just need to be aware. We just need to be focused.”

She also saw no need to close Philippine borders, adding that the government should balance health and the economy.

“We need to understand how this can affect our economy and our foreign relations, but of course our priority will always be public health,” she said. “For now, it is not rational for us to close our borders to countries that have only one [Omicron case].”

An inter-agency task force on Dec. 15 announced a travel ban on eight territories — Andorra, France, Monaco, Northern Mariana Islands, Reunion, San Marino, South Africa and Switzerland.

Effective Dec. 16 to 31, vaccinated and unvaccinated travelers from these “high-risk” areas that are part of the so-called red list will be banned from entering the Philippines, Mr. Nograles said.

Only Filipinos who are being repatriated from these countries will be allowed entry.

The Overseas Workers Welfare Administration last week said at least 100,000 migrant Filipino workers have come home for the holiday.

Airline passengers may only board a plane once they test negative three days before departure. Children aged three years and younger are exempted from the requirement.

Passengers from countries classified as safe must be quarantined until RT-PCR results taken on the third day upon arrival come out. Unvaccinated and partially vaccinated travelers will go through the same restrictions except that they should be tested on the seventh day.

For passengers coming from yellow list or moderate risk countries, the protocols are the same except that the test for the vaccinated will be done on the fifth day, while home quarantine will end on the 14th day.

Vaccinated and unvaccinated travelers from red list countries will undergo similar tests on the seventh day, but the latter must stay until the 10th day regardless of the test results. Both must also do home quarantine until the 14th day.

The Bureau of Quarantine on Thursday said it would enforce the updated policy on territories placed under the green, yellow and red lists. — Norman P. Aquino

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