MANILA: Philippine health authorities reported the country’s first omicron variant infections on Wednesday, found in two travelers who had entered the country from abroad.
After the new strain of the coronavirus disease was detected in South Africa last month, the Philippines suspended its plans to reopen to foreign tourists ahead of the holiday season.
The omicron variant has been designated a “variant of concern” by the World Health Organization, as its mutations may lead to higher transmissibility, and some evidence suggests that it evades vaccine protection.
The two people in whom the new COVID-19 variant was detected on Tuesday are isolating in a quarantine facility, the Department of Health said in a statement.
“The two omicron variant cases are incoming travelers and are currently isolated in a facility managed by the Bureau of Quarantine,” it said.
“The DoH is determining possible close contacts among co-passengers during the flights of these two cases.”
One of the infected people is a 48-year-old Filipino returning from Japan on a Philippine Airlines flight on Dec. 1. The other is a 37-year-old Nigerian national who arrived from Nigeria on Nov. 30 on an Oman Air flight. Both are currently asymptomatic.
“One is fully vaccinated, and the other is not vaccinated,” Health Undersecretary Maria Rosario Vergeire told reporters.
The Department of Health appealed to the public to continue proper mask wearing and to be conscious of observing health measures as the holiday season draws near.
The number of COVID-19 infections in the Philippines has been steadily falling since mid-September, when it recorded over 26,000 new cases at its peak due to the spread of the highly infectious delta variant of the virus.
For the past week, the Southeast Asian nation of 110 million has been recording fewer than 300 new cases a day, with 237 reported on Wednesday.
With the emergence of the new COVID-19 variant, the Department of Health called on the public to get vaccinated.
So far 42 million Filipinos have received two vaccine doses, as the country aims to fully vaccinate 54 million individuals by the end of the year.