Medical experts, private sector to tackle Omicron

The Philippine Star
Medical experts, private sector to tackle Omicron
Health workers attend to patients at the Mandaluyong City Medical Center on January 5, 2022.
Walter Bollozos

MANILA, Philippines — Following the emergence of new, more infectious Omicron subvariants BA.4 and BA.5 in countries that closely mirror the Philippines’ pandemic experience, medical and data experts are set to meet tomorrow to discuss what can be done to head off a new version of the highly contagious Omicron variant, described as more infectious than the “stealth Omicron” subvariant BA.2.

The meeting was called by Presidential Adviser for Entrepreneurship Joey Concepcion and will be attended by Vaccine Expert Panel members led by Dr. Nina Gloriani, medical and data experts from OCTA Research led by Fr. Nic Austriaco, Dr. Maricar Limpin and leaders of Philippine business.

“It’s incumbent upon the private sector to assist the incoming government at this time,” said Concepcion. “COVID is still very much around and we have to stay focused more than ever so we can keep the economy open.”

Two other Omicron sublineages BA 2.12 and BA.2.12.1 were recently detected in the country, but those infected have not shown any severe disease.

“This is protection given by vaccines and boosters,” said Concepcion.

“But with the increased mobility in the last few weeks, specially now that we are welcoming more visitors from overseas, we must keep an eye out for BA.4 and BA.5,” he added.

The new versions are almost identical and are more transmissible that the BA.2 subvariant. It is now responsible for the spike in South Africa’s COVID cases, reported to have tripled since mid-April despite the fact that the country has a high vaccination rate.

Initial reports said that those who have been vaccinated or have previously contracted the Omicron variant did not require hospitalization or die from the disease.

However, Alex Sigal, a professor at the Africa Health Research Institute in South Africa, was quoted in a report as saying that those infected with COVID prior to Omicron but are unvaccinated will not have much immunity.

South Africa is closely watched by Philippine medical experts as it mirrors the behavior of the virus here.

Virologists here said the unvaccinated have no immunity against the two variants.

“We have to stay ahead of these variants and subvariants,” said Concepcion. “The preventative measure we see for now is vaccinations and boosters.”

“We cannot go to heightened alert levels anymore as our economy will suffer. The additional debt for our pandemic response was not in our plans from before, and it added to the capital expenditures we needed to build infrastructure.”

The conflict in the Ukraine is pushing up commodity prices, raising fears of stagflation wherein consumers can no longer afford the sky-high prices, causing the economy to stall.

“We cannot raise alert levels, but we can raise immunity levels,” Concepcion said. “We saw how opening the economy has raised our GDP to 8.5 percent in the first quarter. We need to maintain that.”


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