City gears up for COVID surge, Omicron threat

It’s all back to normal as residents of Guimaras flock to the public market in San Miguel, Jordan town on Sunday, Jan 2, 2021. But the threat of the Omicron variant of COVID-19, which has been detected in Metro Manila, could mean the return of lockdowns and other restrictions. (F.A. Angelo)

By Joseph B.A. Marzan

Iloilo City Mayor Jerry Treñas on Sunday said that the city has been preparing for yet another possible surge of the coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) and the threat of the faster-spreading Omicron (B.1.1.529) variant in positive cases.

In his official Facebook page, Treñas encouraged the public to temporarily refrain from meeting people outside of their household, citing the Omicron variant and the current COVID-19 uptick in Metro Manila.

He also mentioned cancelling the city government’s face-to-face flag ceremony on Monday, January 3.

“I am asking everyone to stop face-to-face gatherings with persons not from the same household in the meantime while we are on the alert for cases of the Omicron variant. (sic) While we still do not have any confirmed case of the Omicron variant in the city, we need to be proactive about it,” the mayor said in his Facebook page.

The mayor also told Daily Guardian in a phone interview that the city government’s COVID Team is set to meet today, Jan 3, 2022 to discuss possible strategies.

He likewise stated that they have been preparing to increase the capabilities for testing and vaccination.

These include lowering testing fees at the Uswag Molecular Laboratory in Molo, renewing contracts for hired vaccination personnel, and partnering with the private sector to bring booster shots into their vicinity.

“We have decreased the [testing rate] for the [Uswag Molecular] Laboratory to P800. We have 20,000 RT-PCR test kits available. We have also asked companies in the city to tell us if they need vaccinators for booster shots,” he said in a phone interview.

Treñas has yet to decide whether he will tighten restrictions for those entering the city from Metro Manila, saying that it will come after the COVID Team meeting.

He also mulled the possibility of requiring testing and quarantine for travelers from Metro Manila.

“We will be releasing an [Executive Order] after the COVID Team meeting, because we are worried about the cases in Metro Manila. We may have to bring back requiring RT-PCR tests prior to travelling and quarantine upon arrival, or if they find it difficult, we may test them here,” he added.

The mayor cannot say if the city was ready or not to counter the current surge in the national capital region as well as the new variant, but he said the city government “will only try to do its best.”

He added that he wouldn’t want to return to the previous COVID restrictions in the city, but he reminded the public to observe minimum public health standards.

“We will always try to do our best, but the [recent COVID] surge in Metro Manila has been very rapid. The latest showed between 2,000 to 4,000 new cases. Right now, we don’t want any additional restrictions, but [we want to remind] people to wear masks and practice physical distancing,” he said.

Daily Guardian also reached out to Iloilo Governor Arthur Defensor Jr., but he has not responded as of this writing.