Red carpet for variants
There was extensive news coverage of the impact of the COVID variants on public health and livelihoods in the countries where they originated. Several European cities had to return to lockdowns when the variant first reported in the United Kingdom jumped to neighboring countries. In Brazil, where an even more virulent strain emerged, hospitals were again swamped. South Africa also struggled to contain its own variant.
So what did the Philippines do? It practically rolled out the red carpet for the entry of all the variants. Every Filipino who wanted to visit or return to the Philippines from the countries battling the variants was allowed entry, with the same quarantine and testing protocols applied for returning Filipinos.
By the time it became clear that the variant eluded even the gold standard RT-PCR swab test on the first day of quarantine, manifesting itself only in the fifth to seventh day, several of the returning Filipinos who had tested negative upon arrival had been allowed to go to their destinations around the country.
On Jan. 22, the Department of Health confirmed the clustering of 12 cases in Bontoc, which was traced to a Filipino and his wife who returned from the UK on Dec. 14 and had tested negative for COVID upon arrival. The couple met with relatives and neighbors, visited Sagada and then attended a religious ceremony in Bontoc.
How many times was this story repeated as people continued to enter the Philippines even from Brazil? The Philippine Genome Center is the only body that can sequence samples for verification of the variants. It can sequence only 750 specimens a week, and it takes a few days for the test results to be known.
Now, amid a continuing deadly COVID surge fueled by all types of variants from abroad including homegrown mutations, the government also looks set to open the doors to the variant from India, where over 70 Filipinos so far have caught the disease. The World Health Organization has described the Indian variant as a “double mutant” and “super mutation” that has led to a staggering daily average of 373,193 new infections in the past week in that country.
The world has seen the terrible scenes of death and sickness in India. Now the Philippine government is saying that as soon as flights become available, the country will also open the doors wide for the entry of this super mutation. With the economy in a tailspin and new COVID cases still in the thousands every day, are we such gluttons for punishment?