Text and Photo by Henrylito D. Tacio
On November 26, 2021, the Geneva-based World Health Organization (WHO) designated variant B.1.1.529 a variant of concern (VOC), following advice from the WHO’s Technical Advisory Group on Virus Evolution. The variant was given the name Omicron.
Omicron is a highly divergent variant with a high number of mutations, including 26-32 mutations in the spike protein, some of which are associated with humoral immune escape potential and higher transmissibility. The Omicron variant comprises four lineages, including B.1.1.529, BA.1, BA.2, and BA.3.
According to the United Nations health agency, the overall threat posed by Omicron largely depends on four key questions: (1) how transmissible the variant is; (2) how well vaccines and prior infection protect against infection, transmission, clinical disease, and death; (3) how virulent the variant is compared to other variants; and (4) how populations understand these dynamics, perceive risk and follow control measures, including public health and social measures.
“Based on the currently available evidence, the overall risk related to Omicron remains very high,” the WHO said in a statement. “Omicron has a significant growth advantage over Delta, leading to rapid spread in the community with higher levels of incidence than previously seen in this pandemic.”
Despite a lower risk of severe disease and death following infection than previous SARS-CoV-2 variants, the very high levels of transmission nevertheless have resulted in significant increases in hospitalization, “continue to pose overwhelming demands on health care systems in most countries, and may lead to significant morbidity, particularly in vulnerable populations.”
Now, some good news. The Social Security System (SSS) recently announced that it provides sickness benefits to members who cannot work due to sickness or injury, including those who contracted COVID-19.
“The sickness benefit is a daily cash allowance paid for the number of days that a member cannot work due to sickness or injury,” explained SSS President and Chief Executive Officer Aurora C. Ignacio.
Under the program, a member must have paid at least three monthly contributions within the last 12 months prior to the semester of sickness or injury, may be confined either in a hospital or at home for at least four days, has used up all his current company sick leaves for the current year and has notified his employer regarding his sickness or injury.
“We are aware that many of our members are getting sick right now. Some of them even got infected by the current Omicron variant. We want to assure them that SSS is providing them with sickness benefits to augment their lost income,” Ignacio said.
Employed, self-employed, voluntary, and overseas Filipino worker (OFW) members could avail of the sickness benefit, which is granted up to a maximum of 120 days in one calendar year to qualified members.
To get a clearer view, SSS provides this example: “Juan dela Cruz got sick for ten days this January 2022. The semester of his sickness will be from October 2021 to March 2022 while the last 12 months before the semester of his sickness will be from October 2020 to September 2021. He should have paid at least three monthly contributions for this period to qualify for the sickness benefit.”
The press statement said that for those members who contracted COVID-19, they must provide a positive Reverse Transcription Polymerase Chain Reaction (RT-PCR) test.
The daily cash allowance is equivalent to 90% of the member’s average daily salary credit (ADSC).
“For example, if the total of a member’s six highest monthly salary credit (MSC) for the 12 months is P96,000, he will have an ADSC of P533.33, and 90% of his ADSC will be P480, which is his daily sickness allowance (DSA). Then, multiply the DSA or P480 by the approved number of days (example ten days), to get the member’s total sickness benefit which is P4,800.”
For humanitarian consideration, for contingencies starting March 2020, SSS extended the filing period for the sickness notifications and sickness benefit claims of members and employers.
“With the extension, SSS is giving its members 60 calendar days after the lifting of the community quarantine to submit their Sickness Notification Forms of their home confinement to their employers. Normally, SSS would give them five calendar days to submit the said form to their employers,” the statement said.
For employers, SSS is giving them 60 calendar days after the receipt of the notification form from the employee to submit this to the SSS. If the country is still in community quarantine on the last day of submission, the employer may still submit the said form within 60 days after the lifting of the community quarantine. Under normal circumstances, employers should submit this form to the SSS within five calendar days after receiving it from their employees.
For self-employed, voluntary, and Overseas Filipino Worker members can submit their Sickness Benefit Application Forms for their home confinement to SSS within 60 calendar days after the lifting of the community quarantine.
Effective July 2020, employers may file their Sickness Benefit Reimbursement Applications (SBRAs) using their My.SSS accounts.