Iloilo City confirms returning OFW as first Omicron case

Joseph B.A. Marzan
Iloilo City confirms returning OFW as first Omicron case
The confirmation of Iloilo City’s first detected Omicron variant case also prompts the city government to reinstate tighter restrictions on alcohol consumption and mobility

ILOILO CITY, Philippines – The Iloilo City Health Office (ICHO) confirmed on Wednesday, January 5, a 46-year-old seafarer from Arevalo district who traveled from Kenya was the first COVID-19 Omicron variant case in the city.

Dr. Marigold Calsas from the ICHO’s City Epidemiological Surveillance Unit (CESU) said in a virtual press conference that the patient tested positive for COVID-19 on December 27, with the presence of the variant confirmed by the Philippine Genome Center on January 4.

The patient disembarked from his vessel in Kenya on December 12 and yielded a negative RT-PCR result after testing on December 14.

He arrived in Cebu on December 16 and got tested on December 18, where he still tested negative for COVID, after which he stayed for 6 more days in Cebu due to Typhoon Odette.

Upon his arrival in Iloilo on December 24, he was advised at the Jubilee Hall to get swabbed on December 27 at the La Paz Gym.

He practiced self-quarantine at his home in Arevalo district until he tested positive for COVID-19.

Calsas said that the patient was certain that he only spent Christmas Day alone, and even stated that he declined the offer of a neighbor to celebrate the holiday with them.

“We were really trying to let him disclose what really happened last Christmas Day, but he stood by his words that he celebrated Christmas alone because he believed that he was under quarantine,” she said.

This new Omicron case in Western Visayas comes just days after the region confirmed its first case of the variant – another Overseas Filipino Worker from Bacolod City. Unlike the latter, the Iloilo patient is currently an active case.

The patient is currently undergoing quarantine at a facility at Barangay Sooc in Arevalo district for 14 days, after which he would undergo repeat RT-PCR test.

Calsas also said in a press release that “All data will be updated as soon as we further investigate the Omicron case through our health personnel, the Department of Health, and contact tracers as the patient has alleged he had no close contacts.”

New protocols

Just a day after issuing Executive Order No. 001 series of 2022, Iloilo City Mayor Jerry Treñas made some amendments to curb the spread of the disease in the meantime.

A suspension on the public consumption of alcoholic drinks, as well as limitations on the sale of liquor products between 8:00 am and 6:00 pm were reinstated.

Persons below 12 years of age and above 65 years are also prohibited from entering malls, shopping centers, and other similar permitted establishments except for obtaining essential goods and services as well as for work.

Restaurants and bars would still be allowed to serve food. Laqwyer Fydah Sabando from the City Legal Office said, however, that the city government’s COVID Team also resolved to close down bars and clubs for the meantime.

Contact sports are also still allowed, provided that organizers secure a permit from the Iloilo City Sports Coordinating Team, with approval and recommendation from the ICHO.

Mass gatherings and religious celebrations are also capped at 50%, but only 10 people are allowed at a time during wakes.

Cinemas and movie houses are encouraged to allow only fully-vaccinated persons and persons under 12 years old are likewise prohibited from entering these places.

“As we all know, we cannot strictly enforce our minimum health protocols [in bars and clubs], especially with physical distancing. This would really aggregate persons to a closed area. We will have to amend accordingly insofar as the opening of clubs, KTVs, and restaurants and the consumption of liquor. It would have to be suspended for the meantime,” Sabando said.

CESU data as of January 5 showed Iloilo City had 38 new COVID-19 cases from January 1 to 4, the most being on January 3 and 4 with 16 cases each.

This was more than the numbers during the same period in January 2021, which was at 15, and in December 1 to 4, 2021, which was at 8. It is also already more than half of last month’s total new cases, which was at 62. –

Joseph B.A. Marzan is a Visayas-based journalist from Iloilo City and is a recipient of the Aries Rufo Journalism Fellowship.