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Philippines rules out COVID travel curb as 'FLiRT' variants spread

MANILA, May 22 ------ The Philippines said there is no reason to impose travel restrictions on countries with increasing COVID infections driven by the new coronavirus variants. US media reports say experts are warning that a small wave of coronavirus cases could hit the country in the summer or beginning next month as new variants KP.2 and KP.3 — collectively nicknamed by scientists as "FLiRT" and offshoots of the JN.1 variant — contribute a large number of new infections there. 


Singapore is also reportedly seeing a surge in new COVID infections. "There is no scientific basis for travel restrictions to any country because of an increase in COVID-19 cases," the Department of Health said in a statement. The DOH said it was closely coordinating with the Bureau of Quarantine as well as with international health authorities, as it is also "keeping watch over points of entry nationwide."


It also reminded medical facilities that they are required to report coronavirus cases "whether tested by PCR or rapid antigen test," saying the data would help guide public health decisions. KP.2 and KP.3 are variants under monitoring by the World Health Organization, and there is no evidence that they are causing severe to critical COVID "both locally and internationally," the DOH said. There are concerns that the "FLiRT" variants are more infectious and evade previous immunity to COVID.


The DOH however said that "further assessment" should be conducted to determine the variants' transmissibility and capacity to evade immune response. Around 78.4 million Filipinos were fully immunized against the coronavirus, and some 23.8 million received at least 1 booster shot.



The DOH said all regions in the Philippines remain at "low risk" for COVID. According to the agency, the country is averaging 125 reported coronavirus cases per day. From May 7 to 13, 2024, some 877 new COVID cases were reported to the DOH. "While there is an observed increase recently, it is small and lower than previously observed increases," the agency said. As of May 12, only 11 percent of dedicated COVID ICU beds were occupied, while 13 percent of non-ICU COVID beds were occupied, the DOH said. "Severe and critical COVID-19 cases admitted in various hospitals total to only 116," the health department added.


Health authorities continue to advise the public to observe minimum health standards to prevent the spread of the coronavirus. "The voluntary use of face masks should be done properly, along with standard precautions like hand washing, avoiding crowds, and choosing good airflow," the DOH said. "It is also best for those who feel ill to stay at home for the meantime, or to properly wear a mask should there be a need to go out." DOH added.



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