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Philippines detects first Omicron cases

A nurse prepares one dose of a COVID-19 vaccine in Cebu City. (Ventures Cebu)

The Department of Health (DOH) on Wednesday, Dec. 15, 2021, announced the first two cases of Omicron (B.1.1.529) in the Philippines following the detection by the University of the Philippines Philippine Genome Center (UP-PGC) of the latest SARS-CoV-2 variant of concern in two international travelers.

Both travelers are currently isolated in a facility managed by the Bureau of Quarantine (BOQ).

In a statement, the DOH said it was determining possible close contacts among fellow passengers of the two travelers.

It was also verifying the test results and health status of all passengers of Philippine Airlines flight number PR 0427 on Dec. 1, 2021 and Oman Air flight number WY 843 on Nov. 30.

"Travelers who have arrived in the Philippines through these flights may call the DOH COVID-19 Hotlines at (02) 8942 6843 or 1555, or their respective LGUs to report their status," the DOH said.

DOH Undersecretary Maria Rosario S. Vergeire said they were securing a copy of the manifest for each flight.

One of the first two Omicron cases is a returning overseas Filipino (ROF) who arrived from Japan on Dec. 1 via PAL flight number PR 0427. He had colds and cough, both symptoms of coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19), upon arrival. These have already resolved, according to the DOH.

The sample was collected on Dec. 5 and the positive result was released on Dec. 7. He was admitted in an isolation facility on the same day.

The other case is a Nigerian national who arrived from Nigeria on Nov. 30 via Oman Air flight number WY 843. He is asymptomatic.

A sample was collected on Dec. 6 and the result was released on Dec. 7. He was admitted to an isolation facility on the same day.

Vergeire said both travelers were brought to a quarantine facility upon arrival and transferred to an isolation facility upon the release of their positive results.

"One is fully vaccinated and the other is not vaccinated," she added.

These two Omicron-positive samples were among the 48 samples sequenced by the PGC on Dec. 14.

Aside from the two Omicron cases, the PGC also detected 33 cases with the Delta (B.1.617.2) variant and 13 cases with variants that were not assigned a lineage.

THE 48 samples were taken fro, 21 ROFs, one foreign national and 26 local cases from areas with case clusters.

Delta variant

Of the additional 33 Delta variant cases, 14 are ROFs. The 19 local cases were tested in the following regions: three each from Central Visayas, Zamboanga Peninsula, Caraga, and SOCCSKSARGEN, two from Western Visayas, and one each from the Cordillera Administrative Region, Central Luzon, CALABARZON, Eastern Visayas and Davao Region.

These brought the total number of confirmed Delta variant cases in the Philippines to 7,919.

The Department is closely working with local government units for them to conduct active case finding and ensure that COVID-19 cases are immediately isolated, tested and contact traced, and that eligible samples for sequencing are submitted.

With the detection of the Omicron variant, the DOH urged the public to adhere to the minimum public standards and properly wear face masks, frequently wash hands with soap and water or alcohol, observe physical distancing, ensure proper ventilation, and avoid crowded areas.

This holiday season, the public should avoid holding mass gatherings to curb the transmission of COVID-19, the DOH said.

The DOH also urged those unvaccinated to get vaccinated during the second round of National Vaccination Days to receive the additional protection that vaccines provide against COVID-19.

The Bayanihan Bakunahan mass vaccination campaign is being held on Dec. 15 to 17 in the Cordillera, National Capital Region, Ilocos, Cagayan Valley, Central Luzon and CALABARZON.

The activity was postponed in 11 other regions, including Central Visayas, due to Typhoon Odette (Rai), which is now moving across the Philippine Sea toward the Visayas and parts of Mindanao and Luzon.

As of Dec. 14, around 42.5 million individuals have been fully vaccinated across the country out of more than 55.4 million individuals who have received the first dose. Meanwhile, nearly 900,000 individuals have received booster doses. (MTVI/Ventures Cebu)

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