DOH eyes relaxed border restrictions for foreign travelers

The Department of Health (DOH) is studying the possibility of recommending further easing of border restrictions due to COVID-19 for foreign travelers who wish to travel in the Philippines, an official said Tuesday.

COVID SITUATIONER. This photo taken on September 16, 2022 shows a nurse treating a COVID-19 patient inside an intensive care unit at a hospital in Manila. AFP

In a press briefing Tuesday, DOH officer-in-charge Undersecretary Maria Rosario Vergeire said the Inter-Agency Task Force for the Management of Emerging Infectious Diseases (IATF) would discuss the President’s directive to further open up the economy and relax border restrictions.

At the same time, Vergeire said the Philippines has recorded an average of only three COVID-19 deaths per day this month so far, lower than the 17 fatalities daily count in August.

Vergeire said current data may still show 200 confirmed deaths per day due to delays in reporting.

“We have been transparent on this, we tell you that there are delays in our reporting of deaths because deaths are still being validated on the ground,” she said.

“Our case fatality up until now is still 1.6 percent. It never went over 2 percent. We are able to keep the deaths in our country at that minimum,” she added.

While this is low, she said, the DOH does not want any fatality due to infection.

Citing data from Google COVID-19 mobility trends, Vergeire said there was an increase in cases due to more people going out.

“We really saw after the middle of August, third week of August, the mobility patterns were higher in Metro Manila and even in the other regions,” she said.

She urged those yet to receive their primary series of COVID-19 jabs to get the vaccine and the fully vaccinated to receive their booster doses as higher mobility would mean a higher risk of transmission of infection.

As of Sept. 18, almost 72.9 million have been fully vaccinated. Of the tally, around 6.8 million are senior citizens, 9.9 million are adolescents, and 4.9 million are children.

Almost 18.9 million have received their first booster dose and almost 2.7 million have received their second booster shot.

The Philippines has reported some 814 additional cases of highly contagious offshoots of the Omicron COVID-19 variant, the DOH said Tuesday.

The country logged 688 new cases of the Omicron BA.5, 16 more cases of the BA.4 and 110 tagged as “other sublineages,” latest figures from the DOH showed.

Of the new BA.5 cases, several were found in Metro Manila (126), Western Visayas (104), and Cagayan Valley (75).

Most of the new BA.4 cases, meanwhile, were reported in Soccsksargen (12).

These are results of the latest sequencing run conducted from Sept. 16 to 19, the DOH said.

While previous “variants of concern” like Alpha and Delta eventually petered out, Omicron and its sublineages have dominated throughout 2022.

The BA.4 and BA.5 types have in particular helped to drive a wave of new cases of the disease in Europe and the United States in recent months.

All Omicron variants tend to have a milder disease course as they settle less in the lungs and more in the upper nasal passages, causing symptoms like fever, tiredness, and loss of smell.

In the past week, the Philippines logged 14,707 new COVID-19 cases, the DOH said.

From Sept. 12 to 18, the country recorded an average of 2,101 daily infections, which is 4 percent lower compared to the previous week.

The Philippines recorded 1,600 new COVID-19 infections on Tuesday, down from 3,119 the day before, DOH data showed.

Tuesday’s tally of newly reported cases was the lowest since September 13 (1,574). Active cases also decreased to 27,257 from 27,686 on Monday.

The country’s total caseload is now 3,925,326.

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