December 5, 2022

Barely a month after easing restrictions and opening borders to tourists, Baguio is again bracing for the newest Covid-19 Omicron variant.

Designated by the World Health Organization as a variant of concern, the B.1.1529 or Omicron variant is believed to have originated in South Africa. In its Nov. 28 statement, the WHO said researchers are conducting studies to better understand many aspects of the variant. However, it advised countries to continue to implement the effective public health measures to reduce Covid-19 circulation overall.

As what had been done when the Delta variant hit the city in August, Mayor Benjamin Magalong said this early, preparations are underway, warning that it might again be a matter of time before Omicron enters the country and the city.

He said part of the city’s action plan for the Omicron variant is the procurement of oral Covid-19 medicines. During a visit in the city last week, representatives of the government of India pledged to donate four million Molnupiravir to the city, which Magalong said meant savings for the city and a boost to its current stock of other oral drugs like Remdesivir and Dexamethasone.

The city will also continue to increase its oxygen supply and the capacity of its isolation and quarantine facilities. Magalong also raised the need for hospitals to prepare.

Vaccination of Baguio’s eligible population is also in full blast, which has been recently sustained by the city’s participation in the three-day nationwide vaccination targeting 15 million individuals from Nov. 29 to Dec. 1.

“Again, we cannot be complacent. These proactive measures, along with continued strict observance of the minimum public health standards, would hopefully help us suppress this Omicron variant,” Magalong said.

Compared to other provinces which dealt with the Delta variant within at least three months, the city has contained the Delta variant in one month and 17 days due to implementation of early countermeasures.

“As we prepare again, I hope it would not hit us this December and spoil our Christmas, but with the latest developments on Omicron, it would only be a matter of time,” he said.

The WHO said it is not yet clear whether the Omicron variant is more transmissible and whether infection with this variant causes more severe infection compared to other variants.

It said preliminary evidence suggests there may be an increased risk of re-infection with Omicron as compared to other variants of concern but information is limited as of the moment.

The WHO is working with technical partners to understand the potential impact of Omicron on existing countermeasures, including vaccines.

“Vaccines remain critical to reducing severe disease and death, including the dominant circulating variant, Delta. Current vaccines remain effective against severe disease and death,” the WHO said. – Hanna C.   Lacsamana