Bracing for another variant
Global stocks, oil prices and certain currencies tumbled Friday amid news of a new COVID-19 variant that is rapidly spreading particularly among young people in South Africa and has been detected in Botswana and Hong Kong.
The spread of the variant, which has been named Omicron, prompted a special meeting of World Health Organization experts last Friday. There are fears that the variant, dubbed B.1.1.529 and already spawning numerous mutations, could be more transmissible and resistant to COVID vaccines.
In the Philippines, the news comes amid falling infections and preparations for the reopening of the country by Dec. 1 to tourists from so-called green countries at low risk for COVID. On Friday night the government approved a temporary ban on inbound flights from South Africa, Botswana, Eswatini, Lesotho, Namibia and Zimbabwe. More places may have to be added even as Filipinos overseas prepare to come home for Christmas with their families.
Three variants of concern fueled two killer surges this year in the Philippines: Alpha and Beta from March to May, and the Delta-driven surge that ended a few weeks ago. Rising vaccination rates and falling cases allowed the easing of restrictions particularly on minors, the resumption of more economic activities and the pilot test of in-person classes in 120 schools in low-risk areas.
With the latest coronavirus strain from South Africa being declared a variant of concern like Delta, the best way for the country to prevent another deadly surge and a return to crippling lockdowns is continued strict adherence to COVID safety protocols even as the vaccination program is ramped up.
Since Metro Manila was eased to Alert Level 2, there have been worrisome scenes of crowding and complacency in observing pandemic safety protocols. Pediatric COVID infections are prompting a review of policies on mobility restrictions for minors.
Vaccination of minors is just starting, and parents themselves should moderate the outdoor activities of their unvaccinated children, especially the very young who cannot wear face masks or shields.
At the same time, people should take advantage of the upcoming National Vaccination Days from Nov. 29 to Dec. 1 and get their shots. The spread of the new variant in South Africa as well as the resurgence of COVID in Europe, where safety measures including masking were lifted, makes vaccination and adherence to pandemic protocols all the more important.