NEWS ROUNDUP: Omicron, BSP expected to keep policy rates low

DOH: Omicron has “high chance” of spreading to the Philippines

In a Laging Handa briefing conducted last Saturday, December 11, 2021, Department of Health (DOH) Undersecretary Maria Rosario Vergeire acknowledged the high chance of the Omicron (B.1.1.529) variant entering the country: “From the start, sinabi na natin, hindi naman po natin masasabi at hindi natin sasabihin din na hindi makakapasok. Ang pinag-uusapan natin diyan: kung kailan.”

(From the start, as we have acknowledged, we could not definitely say that it would not be able to enter. The question has been when it will enter.)

“Mataas po ang tiyansa na maaaring makapasok dito sa atin at tayo naman po ay nag-pre-prepare,” Undersecretary Vergeire added, urging continued adherence to health and safety protocols.

(There’s a big chance it will enter the country although we continue to prepare.)

The Omicron variant of SARS-CoV-2 was first reported in South Africa on November 24, 2021. The World Health Organization (WHO) designated Omicron a variant of concern on November 26, 2021.

On December 2, 2021, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) released an updated science brief regarding the Omicron variant reiterating the following considerations as previously acknowledged by the World Health Organization (WHO):

  • It remains unclear if the Omicron variant is more transmissible than the Delta (B.1.617.2) variant, although the CDC noted that the Omicron variant had become the predominant variant in South Africa where the variant was first discovered.
  • It remains unclear if infection with the Omicron variant leads to more severe disease compared to other previous variants, although preliminary information from South Africa noted no unusual symptoms for those infected with the Omicron variant.
  • It remains unclear if currently available COVID-19 vaccines are less capable at neutralizing the Omicron variant.

On December 12, 2021, the Philippines reported 402 new COVID-19 cases, bringing its total active COVID-19 cases to 11,255.

BSP expected to keep policy rates low amid Omicron uncertainty

The Bangko Sentral ng Pilipinas (BSP) is widely expected to keep key policy rates low ahead of its policy-setting meeting on December 16, 2021 (Thursday).

This comes as the country braces for the potential entry of the Omicron variant which has spread to more than 50 countries since it was discovered on November 24, 2021.

The BSP has kept the interest rate on its overnight reverse repurchase facility at 2.0% since November 20, 2020 to help curb the economic impact of the COVID-19 pandemic.