BAN. The  Ninoy Aquino International Airport. Inbound flights from South Africa, Botswana, Namibia, Zimbabwe, Lesotho, Eswatini, and Mozambique are suspended until Dec. 15, 2021 due to concerns over the potentially more transmissible B.1.1.1529 or Omicron coronavirus variant. (File photo)

MANILA - Discussions are ongoing on the possible expansion of the travel ban to more areas over the potentially more transmissible B.1.1.1529 or Omicron coronavirus variant, the Department of Health (DOH) said Saturday.

Dr. Beverly Ho, director of the Health Promotion Bureau and the Disease Prevention and Control Bureau, said Manila is closely monitoring the latest developments related to the variant, two cases of which were detected in Hong Kong.

"May ongoing na discussion ngayon at asahan niyo po na magkakaroon ng mga developments within the day or by tomorrow tungkol sa possible expansion ng listahan pero siyempre nakabase pa rin to sa mga datos na makukuha natin sa iba't ibang parte ng mundo (We have an ongoing discussion and expect that there will be developments within the day or by tomorrow on the possible expansion of the list but of course the decision will be based on the data that we will get)," she said in a Laging Handa briefing.

As of this posting, inbound flights from South Africa, Botswana, Namibia, Zimbabwe, Lesotho, Eswatini, and Mozambique are suspended until December 15.

The World Health Organization (WHO) classified Omicron as a variant of concern (VOC) on November 26.

Ho said VOCs are often more transmissible and have "higher chances" of causing severe Covid-19 among the infected.

"But in any case alam nating for now mayroon tayong siguradong way to protect ourselves and our family and that is the vaccine, good ventilation, mask, iwas, at hugas (for now our sure protection against this is getting the vaccine, good ventilation, wearing of mask, avoiding crowds, and washing of hands)," she said.

The Omicron variant was first reported to WHO from South Africa on November 24, with the first known confirmed infection from a specimen collected last November 9.

According to WHO, this variant has a large number of mutations, "some of which are concerning".

Based on preliminary evidence, there also seems to be an increased risk of reinfection with this variant, as compared to other VOCs. (PNA)