This time, the government acted fast by imposing a travel ban on countries that reported cases of the new variant of the virus that causes the coronavirus disease (Covid-19).
While necessary, the ban is not all that is expected of our government as parts of the world brace themselves for another deadly surge of Sar-CoV-2 infections. All other measures are as important, namely, vaccination, monitoring of persons with Covid-19 or suspected of having it, quarantine or isolation, contact tracing, massive testing, even getting hold for Cebu of the anti-Covid pills that recently reached the country, and the usual protocols of wearing a mask, physical distancing, and washing hands.
Then there’s also the strengthening of our health systems to prevent a repeat of the surge that happened last July to September that saw patients lining up outside of emergency rooms, panic-buying of oxygen, and the black market selling of the medicine Remdesivir and Tocilizumab at obscene prices. We cannot have that again as lives were lost and families endured a scare of huge proportions when several members of one unit got infected at the same time. No, we cannot have that.
The new variant, called B.1.1.529 (now given the name, Omicron), has been found in South Africa, Botswana, and Hong Kong, news reports said. The variant, reports said, has a “very unusual constellation” of mutations, which are concerning because they could help it evade the body’s immune response and make it more transmissible.
Several countries led by Britain and followed by Singapore and India immediately imposed bans. Britain banned flights from South Africa, Namibia, Botswana, Zimbabwe, Lesotho, and Eswatini; and British nationals returning from those areas were required to go on quarantine.
The Philippines decided on a similar ban through an Inter-Agency Task Force (IATF) resolution issued Friday, November 26, 2021. It ordered a suspension of inbound international flights from South Africa, Botswana, Namibia, Zimbabwe, Lesotho, Eswatini, and Mozambique effective immediately and until December 15.
Cabinet Secretary Karlo Nograles said travelers from these countries who arrived within seven days prior to the suspension will be required to undergo a two-week quarantine with a mandatory RT-PCR test on the seventh day. The challenge is on how to trace these people already in the country and have them quarantined.
The rush to impose the ban was among the lessons from the Delta variant surge when no such inbound flight suspension from South Africa and India was ordered immediately. Others said the ban and lockdowns happened when the early Delta cases were already in the country for some time.
Aside from the ban, there must be other lessons from the Delta surge which the local government can put into action without waiting for the new variant to reach Cebu.
Without those other courses of action, we cannot say we’re prepared for the Omicron.