CLOSING the country’s borders is one of the most immediate courses of action the government must take to prevent the latest Covid-19 variant, Omicron, from reaching Philippine shores, according to local economists.

The new variant is a threat, especially with the holidays coming up and more foreigners being allowed to travel to the Philippines, De La Salle University economist Maria Ella Oplas told BusinessMirror.

The holidays usually bring in Overseas Filipino Workers (OFWs) who are eager to spend Christmas with their loved ones, while foreigners living in temperate regions usually want to relax in tropical countries like the Philippines. This year’s influx of OFWs is expected to be heavier since many of them were unable to come home for the holidays in December 2020.

“My recommendation is to protect the borders. Do not allow people with a history of travel to countries with positive cases to enter,” Oplas said. “We should be more restrictive. more protective in terms of our measures.”

Oplas said that while this will be a setback to some industries, this is a fair measure considering that this could help prevent placing the country in another strict lockdown, which, she said, the economy can no longer afford.

“It is better that we do protective preventive measures than get exposed again. We have a lot to lose,” Oplas said. “We should do it now so that we can open just before Christmas. If it gets contained, we can open it again.”

Ateneo Center for Economic Research and Development (ACERD) Associate Director Ser Percival K. Peña-Reyes said closing the country’s borders would be effective but should still adhere to the standards set by the World Health Organization (WHO).

What is needed, Peña-Reyes told this newspaper, is for travel restrictions to be put in place swiftly and for government to be proactive in imposing them.

Previous instances when the country had the opportunity to impose travel restrictions did not prevent the spread of Covid-19. That was mainly because the decision was not made immediately, he said.

Kung papatay patay and we get caught flat-footed, We were too reactive instead of proactive before. We should learn from that,” Peña-Reyes said. “It’s a delicate balancing act. We need to push testing and tracing to be properly informed of our decisions. Blanket/shotgun approaches could have dire consequences on the economy.”

Former Socioeconomic Planning Secretary Romulo L. Neri told BusinessMirror that there is “no harm” in preventing entry of travelers from countries where the new Covid-19 variant has been detected.

Neri added, however, that it would also be wise to ready alternative treatments should the Omicron variant reach Philippine shores.

He said reports have already stated that the symptoms of the variant were “unusual but mild” and could easily be overcome by the new pills that were developed to prevent Covid-19 positive individuals from progressing to a severe case.

The pills developed to fight Covid-19 at the early stages are Merck’s Molnupiravir and Pfizer’s Paxlovid. Molnupiravir is currently available at the Office of the Vice President’s Bayanihan E-Konsulta while the pill Paxlovid has yet to reach Philippine shores.

“My concern is the global stock market reaction showing a high level of concern. On the other hand, other sources are saying it’s overblown,” Neri said. “I would recommend Ivermectin because of its protease inhibitor capabilities. Same as the new pill from Pfizer (that is) very safe.”

Public health standards

Apart from this, Action for Economic Reforms Coordinator Filomeno Sta. Ana III told BusinessMirror that whether it’s the old or the new Covid-19 variant, nothing beats maintaining public health standards.

These public health standards mean wearing masks, washing hands often, and observing social distancing. Efforts must include addressing ventilation issues, especially in enclosed spaces such as offices, Sta. Ana also said.

The government should also further increase vaccination as well as implement better testing and contact tracing efforts, among others.

Earlier, Socioeconomic Planning Secretary Karl Kendrick T. Chua the only risk for the economy is a resurgence of cases which may or may not be brought by a new Covid-19 variant.

He said this in the context of the country’s better- than-expected 7.1-percent GDP growth in the third quarter of the year. This was faster than the contraction of 11.6 percent in the same period last year.

On Sunday, Bloomberg reprorted that Anthony Fauci, President Joe Biden’s chief medical adviser, said the Covid-19 omicron variant may have already arrived in the United States.

Prior to this declaration, the US hadimposed travel restrictions on South Africa and seven other countries in the region to “buy time” for the US to prepare for the new variant.

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