The Philippine government has adopted measures to mitigate the spread of a new coronavirus disease (COVID-19) variant first detected in the United Kingdom and already has presence in a handful of countries.
President Rodrigo Roa Duterte, who presided a meeting Saturday of government officials and health experts, approved a two-week extension of travel ban on UK that expires December 31.
“As a matter of fact, I’m telling you there is no way of knowing how this thing would evolve. It is evolving itong new strain but how far, how fast is the progression, wala pa tayong alam,” the President said during the televised meeting.
“So the best way is really to play safe. You put a stop sa travel nila. That is a good. Kasali na man siguro iyan diyan.”
Other measures include strict mandatory quarantine for travelers coming from countries with reports on the new COVID-19 variant — Hong Kong, Singapore, Australia.
Travelers from those countries will undergo mandatory completion of 14-day quarantine regardless of their reverse transcription polymerase chain reaction (RT-PCR) test results, Health Secretary Francisco Duque III said.
Also, countries with local community transmission will consider travel restriction but only when transmission of new variant is at the community level, he said, adding the World Health Organization (WHO) could provide information for Philippine authorities’ guidance.
The President also highlighted the importance of enhanced surveillance to detect the presence of the new strain in the country, in which local government officials will play a major role.
He warned mayors and barangay captains that they will be sanctioned if there are lapses on their part particularly in mitigating the spread of COVID-19 cases in their localities.
“Alam mo ang pinaka ano diyan is the mayor and the barangay captains. So make it an obligation for them to really strictly follow also the whatever direction that we take in this fight against COVID,” President Duterte said.
“So mayors must exert efforts na sa kanilang munisipyo at barangay is working and they can push hard also the barangay captains. Iyong mga barangay captains na hindi tumatrabaho and the surveillance in Manila would just notice that there is a spike in your barangay, then we will investigate why na may spike,” he added.
The national government should make the most out of the country’s existing structure of governance to make sure that local government units will do the best they can to protect citizens from the deadly coronavirus disease.
“This time, lahat tayo. I said it behooves upon everybody who is with government to contribute. Dapat lang gawin ninyo, nakikinig kayo sa sinasabi ng ano. Iyong surveillance talaga importante. And well, if there’s a lot of people who are sick then maybe the national government would also contribute something to control the pandemic in your place,” he said.
Last week, the UK reported more than 1,000 cases of new coronavirus variant, which experts said, is 70 percent more infectious.
To prevent the new COVID-19 variant from entering the country, the Philippines has temporarily banned flights from UK and intensified travel health protocols for travelers.
The Department of Health (DOH) recorded 1,406 new COVID-19 cases on December 26, bringing the total number of infections in the country to 469,005 with 431,005 recoveries and 9,067 deaths.