Metro Manila will remain under Alert Level 2 until mid-December as the government rejected calls to further relax quarantine restrictions in the region amid the detection of a new Covid-19 variant dubbed Omicron.
The Inter-Agency Task Force on Emerging Infectious Diseases (IATF) extended for another two weeks the prevailing restrictions in the capital region, Cabinet Secretary Karlo Nograles announced Monday.
“This shall take effect from 1 to 15 December,” said Nograles, who is also acting presidential spokesperson.
Alert Level 2 has been in place in the National Capital Region since 5 November.
Under the scheme, the use of face masks remains mandatory while face shields are optional.
Restaurants are allowed to offer dine-in services, and personal care establishments such as barbershops, hair spas and hair salons, and fitness studios are permitted to operate in areas placed under Alert Level 2.
Tourist attractions, recreational venues, cinemas and movie houses, funfairs or kid amusement industries, and venues with live voice or wind-instrument performers are also allowed.
Business groups have been urging the government to allow the reopening of other establishments such as gaming areas and betting shops in the country, particularly in the capital region, which accounts for at least 40 percent of the Philippines’ gross domestic product.
The said establishments are still barred to operate under Alert Level 2.
The government’s decision to keep the existing restrictions in the capital region came after the discovery of the Covid-19 Omicron virus type, which was classified by the World Health Organization as a variant of concern.
Earlier in the day, Nograles assured the public that the government imposes Covid-19 measures with a “sense of urgency” to address the threat, as he urged the public to remain compliant with health protocols.
The Palace official appealed to Filipinos to continuously observe face mask wearing and physical distancing, especially during the holidays.
“During the holiday season, with restrictions easing, we know many of you plan to see loved ones and friends. So, we appeal to everyone: Please remain vigilant,” said Nograles.
Noting that the entry of the Omicron variant is inevitable, he also called on mayors and village officials to boost their efforts on active case finding, contact tracing, and isolating their infected residents.
“The local government units and the Department of the Interior and Local Government are directed to ensure strict implementation and adherence to the prevention, detection, isolation, treatment, and reintegration strategies,” Nograles said.
While the Omicron raised concerns worldwide for possibly causing yet another deadly infection surge, he said the Covid-19 protocols enforced by the government remain effective in reducing risks of virus spread.
He also said that the government had acted swiftly to prevent the entry of the Omicron variant, including the imposition of a travel ban on countries where the virus type was first discovered.
“Yes, we are acting with a sense of urgency. Our task force immediately convened and consulted with our local experts,” Nograles said.
The Department of Health, the official added, had been instructed to ensure that the country’s health system capacity is prepared to address the possible increase of Covid-19 cases.
He also said that the pandemic task force’s sub-technical working group on data analytics had been directed to craft models or projections that would show potential impact of the Omicron variant on prevailing health measures in the country.
First reported in South Africa, Omicron was said to be the Covid-19 virus type with the most number of mutations at present and experts fear that it could be resistant to the vaccines that have now been rolled out worldwide.
Nations around the world imposed travel bans on South Africa and neighboring countries following its discovery.
Philippine authorities have so far detected 2.83 million Covid-19 infections nationwide, of which 1.7 percent or 48,500 have been fatal.