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Daily COVID-19 cases may breach 500 due to Omicron subvariant — expert

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Daily COVID-19 cases may breach 500 due to Omicron subvariant â expert
Voters queuing at a poll precinct at Pinyahan Elementary School amid sweltering heat and malfunctioning of vote counting machines at Diliman, Quezon City on election day, May 9, 2022.
Philstar.com / Jazmin Tabuena

MANILA, Philippines — There is a "high chance" that the confirmed local transmission of the BA.2.12.1 Omicron sub-variant in parts of the country will eventually lead to an uptick in coronavirus cases, though the country is still protected by its vaccinated population, an infectious disease expert said Thursday. 

This comes after the Department of Health confirmed Tuesday local transmission of the new Omicron sub-variant is happening in Metro Manila, Puerto Princesa City in Palawan, and Western Visayas. 

Speaking at the Laging Handa briefing Thursday morning, Dr. Rontgene Solante, a member of the government's Vaccine Expert Panel said that the uptick could translate to up to as high as over 500 cases per day, especially in dense urban areas like the National Capital Region.

"There is a high chance that the cases will go up but I don't think it will affect our hospitalization rate... The virus is highly transmissible but for the general population, it may not cause more severe infections. What we're looking at is the more vulnerable populations; if there will be an uptick it will be among [them]," he said. 

"We expect that cases will increase, especially in areas with low vaccination rate. It is important to note that the sublineage has a high transmissibility rate. Vulnerable are populations that have no vaccination at all."

On Wednesday, the Department of Health reported 103 new cases — below the OCTA Research Group's forecasted 170 — along with zero deaths and 345 recoveries.

According to the OCTA Research Group, there are still 2,241 active cases in the country, good for a 1.0% nationwide positivity rate.

Health Undersecretary Maria Rosario Vergeire said that the new sub-variant is likely to be more transmissible, but its presence will not necessarily translate to a new wave in cases because of the number of vaccinated individuals in the country.

She also pointed out that there is still no evidence suggesting that BA.2.12.1 causes more severe disease.

But Solante on Thursday also cast fear over what he said was the waning immunity among Filipinos in general as the effects of vaccination wear off and more people have to get boosted. He added that lower testing numbers as of late may mean a less accurate picture of the overall situation.

"Even if you're vaccinated, that's another factor that will contribute also to the increase in the cases... there's more reason to believe that [the cases] can go up because of the superspreader events for the past days and weeks," he said. 

Solante also asserted the importance of vaccination, particularly for the eligible population to get their boosters for additional protection, as well as general compliance with health protocols as the election season winds down.

"These months are critical because if there is community transmission then we will know for sure that cases will go up because of the sub-variant," he said in Filipino. 

Second boosters for senior citizens and healthcare workers were recently approved by the government. Solante said that this was mainly because for this subset of the population, the protective effect against severe infection is stronger. 

Franco Luna with report from Gaea Katreena Cabico 

COVID-19 PANDEMIC

As It Happens
LATEST UPDATE: June 3, 2022 - 2:57pm

Follow this page for updates on the new COVID-19 variant, dubbed Omicron and originally detected in South Africa. Photo courtesy of the The STAR/Miguel de Guzman

June 3, 2022 - 2:57pm

The Department of Health confirms the detection of the COVID-19 Omicron subvariant BA.5 in the Philippines.

The DOH says two individuals from the same household in Central Luzon tested posiive with the subvariant.

Both patients have unknown exposure and have no travel history.

May 13, 2022 - 1:53pm

The first cases of Omicron BA.2.12.1 COVID-19 variant have been detected in the National Capital Region and Palawan, the Department of Health says.

The first two cases in NCR have both received their booster shot and are now tagged as asymptomatic and recovered after completing home isolation.

Meanwhile, 14 tourists and 1 local tested positive in Puerto Princesa City on April 29. All cases are now asymptomatic.

May 12, 2022 - 8:43am

North Korea on Thursday confirms its first-ever case of Covid-19, with state media calling it a "severe national emergency incident" after more than two years of keeping the pandemic at bay.

The official KCNA news agency says the case was "consistent with" the virus' highly transmissible Omicron variant. — AFP

May 5, 2022 - 7:56am

Two new Omicron sub-variants are driving an increase in reported Covid cases in South Africa, the World Health Organization said Wednesday, stressing the importance of testing to monitor virus mutations and spread.

The heavily mutated and highly transmissible Omicron variant of Covid-19, which was first detected in southern Africa in November last year and rapidly spread globally, is now the dominant variant, accounting for almost all new cases. 

Omicron has long been known to have several sub-variants, with BA.2 by far the most dominant. 

But now the South African scientists who first identified Omicron are pointing to two other Omicron sub-variants, BA.4 and BA.5, "as the reason for a spike in cases" in the country, WHO chief Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus told a press conference. — AFP

April 27, 2022 - 5:35pm

The Department of Health says it has detected the country’s first case of BA.2.12 Omicron subvariant.

The case is a Finnish woman who arrived from Finland last April 2.

According to DOH, the woman went to a university in Quezon then to Baguio to conduct seminars. — Gaea Katreena Cabico

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