Philippines warns of surge from new variants

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By Kyle Aristophere T. Atienza, Reporter

THE PHILIPPINES on Wednesday reported 128 more coronavirus infections involving Omicron subvariants, as local health authorities warned of a potential surge next month.

There were 52 more cases of BA.2.3.20, one BN.1, 10 BA.5, 28 XBB and 13 XBC infections, the Department of Health (DoH) said in a report, based on genome sequencing results from Jan. 3 to 9. Twenty-four other cases were classified as “other Omicron subvariants.”

The Philippines might post as many as 730 daily coronavirus cases in February, Health officer-in-charge Maria Rosario S. Vergeire told a news briefing.

“If ever minimum public health standards decline and there is continuous detection of highly evasive and highly transmissible variants, we would see up to 730 cases by Feb. 15,” she said. COVID-19 infections had been declining nationwide.

“But today, we saw a 1% increase,” Ms. Vergeire said. “But this is not significant for us to say that there is really this uptick in cases as a result of the holiday season.” There was also a significant decrease in severe and critical cases in intensive care units, she added.

The new BA.5 cases included three cases of BF.7 and one BQ.1, DoH said. A new case of the Delta variant from Central Luzon was also detected from a test in mid-December.

Of the 52 additional BA.2.3.20 cases, 51 were local cases from the Ilocos Region, Cagayan Valley, Central Luzon, Calabarzon, Bicol, Western Visayas, Central Visayas, Cordillera and Metro Manila. The remaining case was a returning migrant Filipino worker.

One BN.1 patient, which was reported under BA.2.75, was from Western Visayas. Of the 10 new BA.5 patients, six came from Western Visayas and the Davao region, while the remaining were returning migrant workers, DoH said.

All additional XBB and XBC cases came from Ilocos, Central Luzon, Calabarzon, Western Visayas, Central Visayas, Davao, Cordillera and Metro Manila.

“At present, only Omicron and its subvariants have been identified by the World Health Organization as variants of concern,” the agency said. “Alpha, Beta, Gamma and Delta variants are now labeled as previously circulating variants of concern.”

Meanwhile, the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control classifies BA.4 and BA.5 as variants of concern, BA.2.75, BQ.1 (a subvariant of BA.5), and XBB as variants of interest and XBC, BA.2.3.20, BF.7 (a subvariant of BA.5) and BN.1 (a subvariant of BA.2.75) as variants under monitoring, it said.

BA.5 remains as the dominant strain in the country with 12,658 cases, followed by BA.2.3.20 with 3,881, XBB with 949, XBC with 610 and BA.4 with 325 infections, according to the report. DoH said the country had also recorded 38 BA.2.75 cases, 19 BQ.1, seven BF.7 and four BN.1 infections.

The Philippines should brace for an uptick in coronavirus infections spurred by the XBB 1.5 variant, even as the positivity rate in many areas including the capital region had declined, the OCTA Research Group said on Tuesday.

The country would probably face an uptick in infections as early as February “because we’re monitoring another active subvariant in the US right now,” OCTA fellow Fredegusto P. David told OneNews Channel. “It’s XBB1.5 that may be causing a new wave in other parts of the world.”

The Philippines expects more foreign tourists this year after doing away with the mask mandate and easing quarantine rules for travelers.

The Southeast Asian nation received more than two million foreign tourists last year, including 505,089 citizens from the US, which is now struggling to contain a surge in infections driven by the XBB1.5 subvariant.

Mr. David said the coronavirus positivity rate in Metro Manila had fallen to 5.8%. In many provinces the rate has gone down to less than 5%.

The Philippines posted 3,127 new coronavirus infections in the past week with a daily average of 447, DoH said on Monday

The daily average on Jan. 2 to 8 was 9% lower than a week earlier, DoH said in a bulletin. Of the new cases, seven were severe and critical.

The agency said it had verified 79 new deaths in the past week, 17 of which occurred on Dec. 26 to Jan. 8.

It said 431 of 2,379 intensive care unit (ICU) beds had been used as of Jan. 8, while 4,185 of 19,373 non-ICU beds were occupied. There were 507 severe and critical admissions, it added.

It said 73.79 million Filipinos have been fully vaccinated against the coronavirus, with 21.19 million having received booster shots.