Govt mulls adding more countries to 'red list' amid Omicron threat

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Metro Manila (CNN Philippines, December 2) — The Philippine government is planning to add more countries to the "red list" amid the threat of the new Omicron COVID-19 variant, Health Undersecretary Rosario Vergeire said Thursday.

"We are going to propose additional countries based on the detection of this Omicron variant but as I said, we will need to balance it off with the case trends," Vergeire told CNN Philippines' The Source.

Vergeire explained that their assessment would include the incidence rate which covers the frequency of COVID-19 infection in specific areas for a given period after an Omicron variant was detected.

"This is still being studied. We have the IATF (Inter-Agency Task Force for the Management of Emerging Infectious Diseases) later and we will be informing the public after," she said.

She noted that a country which has detected at least one case of the potentially more transmissible variant may still exhibit a low incidence rate, which would not necessarily warrant its inclusion in the red list.

IATF earlier said nations with local Omicron cases are placed under the Red List. The government is imposing an entry ban on travelers from South Africa, Botswana, Namibia, Zimbabwe, Lesotho, Eswatini, Mozambique, Austria, the Czech Republic, Hungary, the Netherlands, Switzerland, Belgium, and Italy from Nov. 28 until Dec. 15.

Vergeire said the Bureau of Quarantine is also monitoring at least 64 individuals who flew into the country. They include three expatriates and a Filipino who went to Negros Occidental after arriving from South Africa, where the Omicron variant was first detected.

She said the four, who are all fully vaccinated, had tested negative of COVID-19 based on their initial RT-PCR test results. They have been re-swabbed and were isolated while the results are not yet out.

The government is also monitoring seven travelers from South Africa who are quarantined in Metro Manila before heading to Negros Occidental, Vergeire added.

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"When we imposed this protocol for this prevention of the entry of Omicron, there have been several individuals that came into the country prior to this imposition, even from South Africa," Vergeire said.

"What we did was we contact-traced them, we backtracked, we identified these individuals, and we endorsed them to their local governments so they can be strictly monitored," she said.

The World Health Organization said early studies suggest there may be an increased risk of reinfection with Omicron, which it designated as a variant of concern. The international body, however, said it is not yet clear whether Omicron is more easily spread from person to person or if it causes more severe disease compared to infections with other variants.

The Philippines to date has not detected a case of the Omicron variant.