President Rodrigo Duterte has called for a meeting with pandemic response officials on Saturday to discuss the new coronavirus strain detected in the United Kingdom, which earlier prompted the temporary suspension of flights from the UK.
In a media interview on Friday, Presidential Spokesperson Harry Roque said Duterte will be back in Malacañang this weekend to convene the Inter-Agency Task Force for the Management of Emerging Infectious Diseases, the policy-making body in government’s COVID-19 response.
Duterte celebrated Christmas in Davao City, but will cut short his holiday break for the “special meeting,” Roque said.
Officials will tackle whether the ban on travelers from the UK should be extended beyond Dec. 31, and whether other countries with confirmed cases of the new coronavirus variant should be included in the travel restrictions.
The mutated strain, said to be more infectious than the original strain, was first detected in the UK last week, forcing its government to impose the strictest Tier 4 lockdown in London and southeastern England in a situation the country’s health chief described as “out of control.”
Outside the UK, this strain has reached Denmark, Belgium, the Netherlands, Italy and Australia. A similar but separate variant has also been identified in South Africa.
Although no new variant of the dreaded virus has been found in the Philippines yet, the government on Wednesday banned all flights from the UK from Dec. 24 to 31. Those who arrived prior to the ban have to be quarantined for 14 days, regardless of the result of their RT-PCR test, Roque said.
Other countries in Europe, Asia, South America, the Caribbean, and the Middle East have also closed their borders.
There’s a new strain of coronavirus, and it’s prompting travel bans and widespread concern around the world.
The new strain called VUI-202012/01 — first Variant Under Investigation in the UK in December 2020 — “can spread more quickly.” Here’s what we know so far. pic.twitter.com/kyNfmHu3qa— CNN Philippines (@cnnphilippines) December 23, 2020
Roque, however, said there is no need for stricter lockdown measures.
“Talagang pinangangalagaan na po natin yung ating mga mamamayan na magkaroon ng hanapbuhay,” said Roque, who is also the spokesperson of the IATF. “Tingin ko naman po napatunayan ng mga Pilipino na kaya nilang sumunod doon sa mga minimum health standards.”
[Translation: We are really trying to secure our people’s jobs now. I think the Filipinos have proven that they can comply with minimum health standards.]
The government has repeatedly appealed to the public to limit holiday gatherings to household members and keep wearing face masks and face shields in public areas to prevent further spread of COVID-19. Experts expected infections to spike after the holiday season, but the Department of Health admitted as early as last week that it was already seeing “the beginning of the surge.”
The country has recorded over 465,000 cases of the coronavirus disease with 9,055 deaths and more than 430,000 recoveries. It remains under varying levels of community quarantine even after the Luzon-wide lockdown from March to May.