“May we remember the real reason for celebration.”
Dashing through the metro traffic, many Filipinos make last-minute shopping in malls and other commercial establishments days before Christmas. Restaurants are full. Transport terminals are crowded. This scenario gives a familiar feeling as it is reminiscent of pre-pandemic times. However, as we see face masks worn everywhere, there lingers a bit of uneasiness as the COVID-19 pandemic persists.
As I have been saying in my previous articles, the entry of the Omicron variant poses new challenges in the country’s COVID-19 response as only little is known about this new variant. While Delta remains to be dominant in the country, the World Health Organization warned that Omicron may soon emerge as the more common variant among active COVID-19 cases. The presumed higher transmissibility of Omicron makes it a very serious threat to the progress we are making in terms of the significantly low number of new COVID-19 cases recorded and the economic growth noted in the last quarter.
Nonetheless, we are thankful that the detected Omicron cases were isolated, and that the national government is on its toes. However, with the reported difficulty in tracing close contacts of confirmed cases, follow-up monitoring of returning Filipinos and international tourists is crucial to ensure that no omicron slips out of sight. At the same time, this ensures strict compliance of those who are required to undergo home quarantine.
Hence, as we are in the seemingly “calm before the storm,” let us take this opportunity to improve our contact tracing and monitoring system. Early this year, the Department of Interior and Local Government mandated local government units to use the StaySafe application for contact tracing. However, issues regarding its efficiency surfaced. There have also been calls for centralizing data from the different contact tracing systems used by LGUs. Apart from this, internet access remains a problem in rural areas, which hinders LGUs from adopting such digital applications. Hence, pen and paper contact tracing is still necessary in areas where no mobile application is adopted. It is high time that national government agencies addressed these issues and provide support to LGUs in order to improve contact tracing and speed up identification of and communication to close contacts.
Despite the imperfections, the use of these contact tracing mechanisms is still gravely important. Hence, I urge the public to continue to religiously register for contact tracing and abide by IATF guidelines. The cooperation of everyone is needed to effectively prevent the spread of COVID-19, particularly this Omicron variant.
As we celebrate Christmas this weekend, let us remain cautious of COVID-19, but not let it dampen the Christmas spirit. Let us celebrate safely, in the way we see fit. In celebrating, let us pray that the country fully recovers from this pandemic soon. Let us also pray for our fellow Filipinos in Palawan, Visayas, and Mindanao who were affected by typhoon Odette. May their spirits be strengthened as help pours in, and that they recover at the soonest possible time.
Amidst the difficulties at this period, I pray that we experience joy in our hearts as we remember the real reason for the celebration—the birth of Christ, our Savior. May the coming of Christ bring hope to all.