Overseas Filipino workers form a queue at the Manila international airport. Image Credit: File

Manila: The first two cases of Omicron had been detected and confirmed in the Philippines, the Department of Health (DOH) stated on Wednesday, adding the travellers landed from Japan and Nigeria.

A statement from the agency said mutation detectives — phylogeneticists — in the Philippines have found that the two imported cases of the Omicron (B.1.1.529) variant of concern came out of the 48 samples sequenced on Tuesday.

Scientists at the Philippine Genome Center (UP-PGC) and the University of the Philippines – National Institutes of Health (UP-NIH) analysed the genetic sequences of SARS-CoV-2 viral mutations.

The first patient is a Filipino returning from an overseas trip, who came from Japan last December 1, while the other case involves a Nigerian national who arrived from Nigeria last November 30, DOH reported.

Both are asymptomatic

“One is a Returning Overseas Filipino (ROF) who arrived from Japan on December 1, 2021, via Philippine Airlines flight number PR 0427. The sample was collected on December 5, 2021. His positive result was released on December 7 and the case was admitted to an isolation facility on the same date. He is currently asymptomatic but had symptoms of colds and cough upon arrival,” DOH said.

“The other case is a Nigerian national who arrived from Nigeria on November 30, 2021, via Oman Air with flight number WY 843. A sample was collected on December 6, 2021, and the result was released on December 7, 2021. He was then admitted to an isolation facility on the same date. His current status is also asymptomatic,” it added.

Isolation facility

The DOH stated the known Omicron variant carriers are currently isolated in a facility being managed by the Bureau of Quarantine (BOQ). Also, the department added that it is identifying possible close contacts of the two patients, including fellow passengers in the flights.

There are at least 63 countries that detected the Omicron COVID-19 variant. A local health expert said a surge of infections would be likely.

"If Omicron enters the Philippines, a serious surge of infections is likely," Dr. Guido David of OCTA Research warns after presenting the data of South Africa's Omicron-driven rise in cases.

The World Health Organisation now sees an "unprecedented" Omicron spread, probably in most countries.

Test results

“The DOH is verifying the test results and health status of all passengers of these flights to determine if there are other confirmed cases or passengers who became symptomatic after arrival. Travellers who have arrived in the Philippines through these flights may call the DOH COVID-19 Hotlines at (02) 8942 6843 or 1555, or their respective LGUs to report their status,” DOH added.

The Omicron variant is reportedly 10 times more transmissible than the original variant from Wuhan, China and 4.2 times more transmissible than the Delta variant.

The agency urged the public to continue observing minimum public health safety protocols like wearing of masks and maintaining physical distance in public areas.

“With the detection of the imported cases of Omicron variant, the Department also urges everyone to adhere to the minimum public standards and properly wear face masks, frequently wash hands with soap and water or alcohol, observe physical distancing, ensure proper ventilation, and avoid crowded areas,” DOH told the media.