Further unease throughout Asia as Philippines, Cambodia report first circumstances of Omicron variant, SE Asia News & Top Stories

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MANILA – The Philippines and Cambodia on Wednesday (Dec 15) reported their first circumstances of the Omicron variant, fuelling unease throughout Asia and additional dimming hopes of a restoration as the brand new 12 months approaches.

Health officers in Manila stated they discovered two travellers – one from Japan who arrived on Dec 1 and one other from Nigeria the day earlier – carrying the Omicron variant. Both had been asymptomatic.

Cambodia’s Health Ministry stated it detected the variant in a 23-year-old lady who returned from Ghana, through Dubai and Bangkok. She was 15 weeks pregnant.

Omicron has already unfold to Singapore, China, Japan, South Korea and India, in addition to Hong Kong and Taiwan.

The new circumstances within the area coincided with a World Health Organization (WHO) warning that the variant is spreading at an unprecedented fee.

First detected in South Africa and Hong Kong, Omicron has now been reported in 79 international locations, and might be current in many of the others as effectively.

The variant “is spreading at a rate we have not seen with any previous variant”, stated WHO chief Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus.

He stated it shouldn’t be dismissed as “mild”.

“Even if Omicron does cause less severe disease, the sheer number of cases could once again overwhelm unprepared health systems,” he stated.

Without giving specifics, he added: “Evolving evidence suggests a small decline in the effectiveness of vaccines against severe disease and death, and a decline in preventing mild disease or infection.”

Independent researchers had on Tuesday warned that the Philippines may face a “serious surge” in Covid-19 circumstances ought to Omicron attain its shores.

Dr Guido David, a fellow at Octa Research, drew parallels to South Africa’s expertise with the variant.

He stated from lower than 300 new circumstances a day, South Africa is now seeing near 40,000.

“Although vaccine coverage in the Philippines is significantly higher compared to South Africa, the Omicron variant, if it enters the country’s borders, will likely trigger a serious surge of new cases,” he stated.

News of the primary Omicron circumstances despatched Philippine shares plummeting.

“Investors are now speculating as to whether the cases will be contained, and if the government will adhere to stricter measures to protect from cases increasing,” stated Mr Luis Limlingan, a inventory analyst at Regina Capital Development.

The Philippines has seen document low numbers in Covid-19 infections over the previous month, with the each day common plunging to 91 within the first two weeks of December.

The authorities has responded by easing robust quarantine restrictions, whereas ramping up its vaccination drive. It has allowed seniors and minors to exit of their houses, and dropped a requirement for everybody to put on face shields. Cinemas and gaming arcades have been reopened.

Huge crowds have since been flocking to malls, and social calls have turn out to be extra frequent, as Filipinos ramp up their Christmas buying and get-togethers.

Popular vacationer locations just like the famed island resort of Boracay are seeing document bookings.

Officials say it’s too early to start tightening the screws once more, and not using a clear development of exponentially rising circumstances.

For now, the Philippines is bringing again testing and quarantine protocols for some 40 “green list” international locations and territories, together with China, Japan, Indonesia, Saudi Arabia and Hong Kong, which hosts giant numbers of migrant Filipino staff.

Manila earlier this month allowed totally vaccinated travellers – however not vacationers – from these international locations with detrimental Covid-19 check outcomes to enter the Philippines while not having to bear quarantine for 5 days upon their arrival. It has now determined to require that they bear quarantine and be retested on the fifth day.

The Philippines nonetheless has the second-worst outbreak in South-east Asia, with over 2.8 million circumstances, and a few 50,000 deaths.

Governments throughout Asia have additionally been implementing strict border controls, as Europe battles a recent wave of infections and hospital admissions.

Early information suggests Omicron is extra transmissible than the Delta variant and even these vaccinated might not be spared, although there isn’t a proof but that it causes extra extreme sickness.

“The question is how much protection are the current vaccines that we are using, which are currently life-saving against all the variants, and to what extent do we lose any protection against severe illness and death against Omicron. The data is pointing towards there being significant protection,” stated Dr Mike Ryan, the WHO’s emergencies director.

Still, the WHO urged international locations to behave swiftly to rein in transmission and defend their well being methods and warned towards complacency.

WHO skilled Bruce Aylward warned towards “jumping to a conclusion that this is a mild disease”.

“We could be setting ourselves up for a very dangerous situation,” he added.

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