The Inter-Agency Task Force for the Management of Emerging Infectious Diseases (IATF) has decided not to add any more countries into the Philippines’ red list amid the threat of the Omicron variant, the Department of Health (DOH) said on Tuesday.
Health Undersecretary Maria Rosario Vergeire on Monday reported that a total of 42 countries or jurisdictions had detected the variant.
“Napagkasunduan po sa IATF na hindi po muna natin dadagdagan dahil padagdag na ng padagdag ang mga bansa. Ang gagawin natin, i-intensify natin ang ginagawang control sa ating borders (It was agreed in the IATF that we will not add more countries because the number of countries reporting the variant keeps increasing. What we will do is to intensify our border controls.),” Vergeire said in a radio interview.
Meanwhile, the latest additions to the list of countries suspected of having a local transmission of the variant include Australia, Zambia, and Zimbabwe. With Vito Barcelo
Australia is included in the country’s yellow list, Zambia is on the green list and Zimbabwe is part of the red list.
Vergeire stressed that the Philippines cannot close its doors to the world.
“Hindi ho natin puwede isara ang Pilipinas from the rest of the world. So ‘yan po ang prinsipyong pinanghahawakan ng Inter-Agency Task Force (We cannot close off the Philippines to the rest of the world. This is the principle of the Inter-Agency Task Force.),” Veregire said.
“Kaya ang ating mga eksperto nagrekomenda na lang po ng mga protocols (so our experts recommended protocols) stricter than before, so that at least we can assure that we can still guard our borders,” she said.
The IATF has recently changed the testing and quarantine protocols for travelers arriving from countries that are not on the red list.
Vergeire has also said that the Philippines can only prepare for and delay the entry of the Omicron variant as the government cannot control this.
A total of 532 individuals globally have tested positive for the Omicron variant as of December 5.
The Bureau of Immigration (BI) meanwhile said that Filipino and foreign diplomats arriving from countries in the red list are exempted from the travel ban and are allowed to enter the Philippines.
In a statement, Immigration Commissioner Jaime Morente said the new policy exempting diplomats from the travel ban was adopted under a resolution issued by IATF last Nov. 25.
Morente said a letter on the subject was also conveyed by the Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) to different department and agencies last Dec. 2.
According to the BI chief, the exemption extends also to the diplomats’ qualified dependents, such as their spouses and children, who as holders valid diplomatic or official passports.
Those covered by the exemption are Philippine officials and their delegations on official travel abroad; Philippine diplomats and their dependents returning to the Philippines at the end of their tour of duty; Philippine foreign service posts personnel arriving for home office consultation or with approved leave of absence; and foreign diplomats and their dependents. With Vito Barcelo