The Department of Health (DOH) on Friday advised companies to only have virtual parties this Christmas, as the COVID-19 pandemic is still here despite a decline in cases.
“I know this is the second Christmas that we are celebrating in a different way, but I hope we can make these kinds of sacrifices to further prevent infections in the community and in our population,” Health Undersecretary Maria Rosario Vergeire said in Filipino.
The move is largely in reaction to the threat of the dangerous Omicron variant of the coronavirus, which the World Health Organization's Western Pacific Regional Office said Friday had been found in at least four areas in the region.
The WHO announcement coincided with a report from the Department of Health that three travelers who arrived in the Philippines, who flew in from South Africa, Burkina Faso, and Egypt, had tested positive for COVID-19, and the government was hastening its genome sequencing to determine the variant.
Elsewhere, the United States and Australia announced their first locally transmitted cases of the Omicron variant as authorities worldwide rushed Friday to stem the spread of the heavily mutated strain of COVID-19.
The WHO has said it could take weeks to determine whether Omicron is more transmissible and whether it causes more severe infections—as well as how effective current treatments and vaccines are against it.
Local government units may also impose stricter measures in their areas amid the threat of Omicron, Marinduque Governor Presbitero Velasco, who leads the League of Provinces of the Philippines, said.
LGUs have the power to impose “reasonable regulations” to protect their constituents from COVID-19, Velasco added.
If the parties are held in person, Vergeire said, only fully vaccinated employees should be allowed to attend and they should be held in an open space, with people wearing face masks and keeping their distance.
“And please, do not serve buffet dishes. We can have plated dishes so there won’t be a congregation when you get food from the buffet table and also for sharing of food,” she added.
The Department of the Interior and Local Government (DILG) had announced earlier that in-person parties are allowed in areas under Alert Level 2 as long as health protocols are observed and only 50 percent of the venue capacity is occupied.
The safety seal of establishments that violate these rules will be revoked, and the business permits suspended, the DILG warned.
Vergeire, meanwhile, also reminded Filipinos returning from overseas to get tested for COVID-19 before leaving for the Philippines.
With the threat of the new Omicron variant of COVID-19, the Inter-Agency Task Force for the Management of Emerging Infectious Diseases (IATF) imposed new testing and quarantine protocols for travelers arriving from countries that are not on the red list.
Also on Friday, the presidential adviser for entrepreneurship, Joey Concepcion, said he now supported keeping Metro Manila under Alert Level 2 for the remainder of the year, after pushing to ease quarantine restrictions.
Meanwhile, the National Capital Region Police Office (NCRPO) will allow the deployment of police officers near their residences for the holiday season.
In a statement on Friday, NCRPO chief, Maj. Gen. Vicente Danao Jr. said this complies with Philippine National Police (PNP) chief Gen. Dionardo Carlos' promise to let police officers spend more time with their families during the holidays by working at the nearest police station from their homes.
"Whatever our CPNP (Philippine National Police chief) will say regarding this, guaranteed that we shall support and make it happen without compromising our task to keep Metro Manila safe and secure during the celebration of Christmas season and other holidays ahead," Danao said.
Carlos has already directed the Directorate for Personnel and Records Management to come up with a plan on how to effectively implement the measure.
The work-near-home policy for police officers during the holiday season started during the term of then PNP chief and now Senator Ronald "Bato" dela Rosa to boost the morale of police officers nationwide and put an end to the sad scene of their children waiting in vain for their parents to come home on Christmas Eve.
"I myself experienced this. And I have accepted this as a matter of lifestyle which only uniformed servicemen will understand. I am grateful for my children for their sympathy but it sure is better if I was blessed with the chance to come home to them as most fathers do on Christmas Eve. This is what I wanted my men to experience, and this is what I wanted them to do," Danao said.