New Covid subvariant may have sneaked into PH

AN infectious disease expert said it is possible that the new Covid-19 Omicron subvariant XBB may already be in the country but has escaped detection because not enough test samples have been sequenced by the Philippine Genome Center.

The XBB, or the BA.2.10 strain, is a recombinant variant that contains the BJ.10.1 and the BA.2.75 sublineages.

It is said to be more immune-evasive than the BA.5, the world's dominant Omicron subvariant.

The Singapore Ministry of Health has reported an increase in Covid-19 cases, with 54 percent attributed to the XBB subvariant.

In an interview on DZBB radio Sunday, Dr. Rontgene Solante said it was possible there were undetected cases of XBB in the country.

"We cannot rule out because we only test few samples for sequencing [plus the fact that] we have daily flights to Singapore, so there is a possibility that this variant can be present here, but we don't know yet, because Philippine Genome Center has yet to detect the variant," Solante said.

Despite the high transmissibility and immune evasion, the XBB is expected to be less severe than other Omicron subvariants, although senior citizens and persons with comorbidities could be highly vulnerable to it.

"While we see that these subvariants can cause less severe cases, the transmissibility is high and at times, the most vulnerable will get infected and will get severe disease," Solante said.

He said continued observance of health protocols, such as wearing masks indoors and isolating people with symptoms would be the key to preventing the spread of variants such as XBB.

Solante also urged people who are highly vulnerable to the disease to get their second booster dose.

He said the emergence of new variants would be a factor in deciding whether to lift the state of public health emergency by next year and move toward an "endemic" stage for Covid-19.

XBB subvariant cases in PH possible – expert

But he believes that because of the continuing vaccination program, the country will not see a huge surge of cases like the one in December and January, when there were more than 30,000 cases per day.

The Department of Health said it had not detected any case of the XBB variant in the country.



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