Omicron still undetected, but may already be in Philippines –Genome Center

A case of the new Omicron variant of the COVID-19 virus has not yet been detected in the Philippines, but the Philippine Genome Center (PGC) on Saturday floated the possibility that it may have already crossed the country’s borders.

“So far wala pa tayong na-detect na Omicron from the 18,000 [samples] na nai-sequence natin,” PGC Executive Director Cynthia Saloma said during the Laging Handa public briefing on Saturday.

(So far we haven’t detected Omicron from the 18,000 samples we have sequenced.)

However, she said that “it is possible that it has entered our borders. We are on the lookout for that.”

“The possibility exists pero until such time meron tayong whole genome sequence hindi natin masasabi ‘yan,” Saloma said.

(The possibility exists but until such time we have a whole genome sequence we can’t really tell.)

Malacanang is still awaiting the results of the genome sequencing on the samples taken from three travelers from South Africa, Burkina Faso, and Egypt who tested positive for COVID-19 to find out if they carry the Omicron variant.

The PGC official also called on local government units to submit samples to its laboratories if they observed spikes in cases in a particular area or clusters.

“And we are always ready to sequence them,” Saloma said.

“Sinasabi namin, ‘it’s not a question of if, it is just a question of when’ kaya kailangan maghanda at mga healthcare facilities ma-improve natin,” she said.

(What we were saying is, ‘it is not a question of if, it is just a question of when’. That is why we have to be prepared and improve our healthcare facilities.)

She also reminded the public to practice minimum health standards such as wearing of face masks and observing physical distancing.

The Omicron variant was first detected in South Africa and has since been designated as a variant of concern by the World Health Organization.

This prompted the Philippines to update its red list of countries from where travelers are temporarily banned amid the COVID-19 pandemic.

Those on the red list include South Africa and 13 other countries namely Austria, Czech Republic, Hungary, the Netherlands, Switzerland, Belgium, Italy, Botswana, Namibia, Zimbabwe, Lesotho, Eswatini, and Mozambique.

Burkina Faso and Egypt are included in the country’s yellow list. –KG, GMA News

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