ZAMBOANGA SIBUGAY, Philippines – Governor Wilter Palma on Friday, January 7, signed an executive order that bans incoming travel and restricts the movement of the unvaccinated in his province.
Palma’s order, which takes effect on Tuesday, January 11, bars unvaccinated travelers from entering Zamboanga Sibugay.
It also restricts unvaccinated residents from entering private and government offices, and commercial establishments.
Neither can the unvaccinated access public transportation in Zamboanga Sibugay beginning next week until January 31.
Palma’s order was issued on the same day the Department of Health (DOH) confirmed the first documented COVID-19 Omicron variant case in Mindanao.
Mindanao’s first known Omicron case is a 40-year-old seafarer who traveled from Kenya to Iligan City in Northern Mindanao before New Year’s Day. He arrived via a Qatar Airways flight to Cebu, was quarantined for days, and then proceeded to travel to Iligan via the Laguindingan Airport in Misamis Oriental.
Palma signed the order after he met with members of the provincial COVID-19 task force, which recommended the “no vaccination, no entry” policy in the wake of increasing COVID-19 cases in the country.
Aside from restricting the unvaccinated from entering and transacting in all offices and establishments, and even taking tricycles in the province, travelers will also be required to show RT-PCR test results and vaccination cards.
“I will take full responsibility,” said Palma as he anticipated protests and legal challenges.
Palma said he felt there was a need to take stricter and more proactive measures in the wake of the rising COVID-19 cases in the country.
Homecoming OFW positive for Omicron variant
Zamboanga Sibugay health officials also confirmed that a woman who returned to the province from the Middle East on Christmas Day had tested positive for the COVID-19 Omicron variant while she was in isolation in Cebu City.
The woman, who worked in Dubai, tested positive for Omicron as early as December 16, 2021 – ahead of another Mindanaoan, a 40-year-old seafarer who returned to Iligan City before New Year’s Eve. The Department of Health (DOH) in Northern Mindanao confirmed that the seaman tested positive for the Omicron variant this week, after being quarantined in Cebu City.
Dr. Adnilre Verzon, municipal health officer of Ipil town, confirmed to Rappler that the overseas worker returned to Ipil, her hometown and the capital town of Zamboanga Sibugay province, on Christmas Day.
Verzon said the woman arrived in Cebu City from Dubai on December 10 and was quarantined in a hotel there.
She was swabbed four days after her arrival, and the result came out on December 16, showing that she had the Omicron variant.
Verzon said the overseas worker, who was asymptomatic, was quarantined in Cebu until December 24, and another RT-PCR test on her showed that she was already negative for COVID-19.
“The OFW is a recovered case and there is nothing to worry about,” Verzon said.
Dr. Said Sahi, acting chief of Zamboanga Sibugay Provincial Hospital, said the overseas worker was cleared before she was allowed to travel from Cebu City to Ipil town on December 25.
“She was cleared of COVID-19 before she left Cebu City,” Sahi said.
Zamboanga Sibugay has continued to maintain a relatively low number of COVID-19 cases despite relaxing its public health rules in October 2021.
As of Friday, the province recorded a new COVID-19 infection and a total of nine active cases.
Antonio Manaytay is a Mindanao-based journalist and an awardee of the Aries Rufo Journalism Fellowship