City health officials Dr. Dean Palanca (left), and Dr. Ric Panganiban (right). At center is Norma Lyn Dave of the City Information Office.

Puerto Princesa City health officials recorded 55 new COVID-19 cases on Tuesday, sparking fears that the dreaded Omicron variant may have arrived earlier than expected.

City IMT head Dr. Dean Palanca said that out of the 55, 45 were inbound travelers who arrived in the past week, while 10 were local cases. He added that the number of new cases is rather alarming, especially since cases were on a steady decline towards the beginning of 2022.

Palanca added that they immediately tested the close contacts of the 45 travelers on Wednesday morning, which resulted in 24 patients testing positive as well.

“Last week ng December, ang baba ng cases natin, at bumaba pa siya nitong January 3, nasa 22 ang ating active cases. Kahapon (January 4), karamihan na tine-test namin ay mga close contacts ng mga active cases natin at ang mga nagsiuwi na mga kababayan, APORs. Mayroong 517 na tinest sa city testing center, nagulat kami out of 517, biglaang mayroon tayong 55 na nag-positive agad,” Palanca said in a live briefing on Wednesday.

“Nakakabigla, kasi for the past few weeks, hindi naman ganito kataas ang cases namin,” he added.

Palanca added that it is very likely that the Omicron variant is behind the surge, as he has observed that the variant is known for causing new surges abroad and in Metro Manila. He also stated that it has arrived earlier than expected, as he mentioned in Monday’s briefing that they expect cases to rise by the third or fourth week of January.

“Maaring tatanungin nila ako, andito na ba ang Omicron? Ang sagot ko, siguro mga 90 percent yes ‘yan, wala nga lang tayong genome testing na ginagawa ngayon sa Puerto Princesa,” he added.

Inbound travelers

Palanca also stated that the city government is looking for nearly 300 individuals who traveled to Puerto Princesa on December 28-31, adding that these travelers did not undergo mandatory testing and need to immediately report to the IMT.

It was during this period when the city government relaxed travel protocols due to flight delays caused by Typhoon Odette. This was also before the city government announced that returning residents needed to secure a negative antigen test before their flight.

Right now, pinapatawagan namin sila kasi alanganin naman sa 300 na ‘yan walang dalang COVID. Sigurado tayo na maraming may COVID diyan na hindi nagpapa-test. Sa ngayon ay tinatawagan sila ng ating Monitoring and Surveillance Team, at kailangan nilang magsangguni para sa testing bukas,” he said.

“Kung hindi kayo magsasangguni sa test at hindi kayo magpapakita ng inyong resulta, diretso na kami sa City Legal Office para sila na ang gagawa ng paraan kung ano ang gagawin sa inyo,” he added.

Travel protocols

Palawan News sought comment from the city’s Inter-Agency Task Force (IATF) if the new development implies new public health protocols, travel restrictions, or a higher alert level status. IATF spokesperson Atty. Norman Yap, in a text message, said that they will still work with the IMT on the matter.

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is a senior reporter for Palawan News who covers politics, education, environment, tourism, and human interest stories. She loves watching Netflix, reading literary fiction, and listens to serial fiction podcasts. Her favorite color is blue.