In case you missed it, there’s a new and seemingly more infectious strain of COVID-19 that has been detected in the United Kingdom—and it has been spreading outside the country, too.
This new strain was the center of discussion during the meeting of President Rodrigo Duterte and the Inter-agency Task Force on the Management of Emerging Infectious Diseases (IATF) on Dec. 26. But don’t hold your breath too much, because it looks like we’d only be reimposing strict lockdown measures if (and perhaps, once) the new strain enters the country.
“Actually, iyong lockdown is a possibility. I said we are making some projections but if the severity in number would demand that we take corrective measures immediately, then we just have to go back to lockdown,” said the President.
Health Secretary Francisco Duque III also said that a travel ban is only recommended if a community transmission occurs in the United Kingdom. The Department of Health later clarified that he meant to say that travel restrictions for countries with confirmed cases of the new COVID-19 strain will only be considered when its transmission there is already at a community level.
Earlier in the meeting, Duque announced that among the 79 people who came from the United Kingdom and arrived in the country from December 22 to 25, one has tested positive for COVID-19. 72 of these travelers arrived at the Ninoy Aquino International Airport, while the other seven went to the Clark International Airport. And as of yesterday, only 59 of these people have already received their results.
Duque added that this doesn’t automatically mean that the traveler carries the new COVID-19 strain. “’Yung testing po nito, hindi nangangahulugan na ito na ’yung new variant dahil magsasagawa pa po ng pagsusuri ang ating mga eksperto mula sa Philippine Genome Center,” he said.
Currently, there is a temporary ban on flights from the United Kingdom imposed in the country. However, the new COVID-19 strain has already been detected in several places including France, Lebanon, Spain, Germany, Switzerland and Ireland as well as neighboring countries like Singapore and Japan. But hey, Duque says there are no cases of the new strain here yet.
Current “mitigation plans”
During the meeting, President Duterte did announce that he is taking back his approval of the proposal to conduct face-to-face classes due to the threat of the new COVID-19 strain—at least that’s something, right? Oh, and he also wants to create a new task force led by medical experts for this new strain. “The government should create another task force, hindi itong atin, wala naman tayong alam diyan. Medical. Ideally, it’s the medical persons na nakatutok lang talaga diyan sa bagong strain whether or not it is here or not,” he said.
It’s not like we’re thinking that that should have been the case in the first place when the task force was created. It’s also not like we’re getting flashbacks of the first COVID-19 case—a traveler from Wuhan, China which served as the virus’ epicenter—being confirmed in the country on Jan. 30, the travel ban on flights from China only being ordered the day after and the Metro Manila lockdown only being imposed in March. Since then, the country has been on community quarantine and as of Dec. 26, we have recorded 28,883 active cases here, with 1,406 of these being new.
“The only way we can be prepared, not avoid—because we cannot avoid it—is if we know in advance how it would progress coming into our country,” said the President during today’s IATF meeting. On top of believing in the saying that “prevention is better than cure,” we’d like to propose: travel ban and making lockdown measures strict again.