The Philippine government has taken out South Africa, Namibia, and Zimbabwe from its “green list” over the newly-discovered and possibly vaccine-resistant Covid-19 variant.
Cabinet Secretary Karlo Nograles made the announcement on Saturday, a day after the national pandemic task force had approved the temporary suspension of inbound international flights from South Africa and its neighboring countries following the detection of the coronavirus Omicron variant or B.1.1.529.
“This is to clarify that the Inter-Agency Task Force’s temporary suspension of inbound international flights from South Africa, Namibia, and Zimbabwe contained in IATF Resolution 150, supersedes the earlier green list classification of the three abovementioned countries in IATF Resolution 148-A,” he said through a statement sent to reporters.
At press time, inbound flights from South Africa, Namibia, Zimbabwe, Botswana, Lesotho, Eswatini, and Mozambique have been suspended until 17 December.
The government previously included South Africa, Namibia, and Zimbabwe in its list of green countries or areas deemed as “low risk” for coronavirus transmission.
Fully vaccinated travelers from green list countries may skip facility quarantine upon arrival in the Philippines, provided that they present negative results of their swab tests taken 72 hours before departure.
Apart from South Africa and Botswana, the Omicron variant has also been found in Hong Kong, where thousands of Filipinos have been working.
Discussions among Filipino officials are ongoing on the possible expansion of the travel ban to Hong Kong and other areas due to the development, according to the Department of Health.
Dr. Beverly Ho, director of the agency’s health promotion bureau, assured the public on Saturday that the government is closely monitoring the situation in other countries related to the Omicron variant.
“Expect that there will be developments within the day or by tomorrow on the possible expansion of the [travel ban] list, but, of course, the decision will be based on the data that we will get,” Ho said in a televised briefing.
The Omicron has been classified by the World Health Organization as a “variant of concern,” and nations around the world have begun imposing travel bans on South Africa and its neighboring countries after the discovery of the new virus type.
Those categorized as variants of concern are often more infectious and have “higher chances” of causing severe Covid-19 among the infected.
Britain, Singapore, and Japan were among the first countries which restricted arrivals from select countries as a precautionary measure.
South Africa, for its part, said the draconian travel bans were “unjustified,” claiming that the move was about “finding scapegoats to deal with what is a worldwide problem.”
Scientists have said that the new variant features some “concerning” mutations, and early evidence suggests that it could be more resistant to the vaccines that have now been rolled out worldwide.
In recent weeks, the Philippines is seeing relatively fewer Covid-19 cases per day, which signals hope for thousands of Filipinos who have lost their jobs to the pandemic.
The government is ramping up its efforts to vaccinate more individuals to reduce the number of hospitalizations and fatalities due to coronavirus, and to bring back investor and consumer confidence to spur economic growth.
Authorities have so far detected 2.83 million Covid-19 infections nationwide, of which 1.7 percent or 48,200 have been fatal.