Omicron variant

COVID-19 cases in PH rise amid threat of Omicron subvariants

Bonz Magsambol
COVID-19 cases in PH rise amid threat of Omicron subvariants

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Dr. John Wong of Epimetrics says that their group also observed uptick in cases, although they are monitoring the trend if this will be sustained in the next four days

MANILA, Philippines – COVID-19 infections in the Philippines are on the rise again following the detection of cases of the more transmissible subvariants of Omircon, data from the Department of Health (DOH) showed.

According to Rappler monitoring based on DOH data, cases were rising in the last four days, from May 19 to May 22, although it slipped on Sunday, May 22.

May 18 – 103
May 19 – 195
May 20 – 214
May 21 – 246
May 22 – 191

Dr. John Wong of Epimetrics said that their group also observed an uptick in cases, although he said that they were monitoring the trend if the rise would be sustained in the next four days.

Asked whether the possible surge would be the same level during Omicron peak in January, “we can’t know if it will be the same or greater level,” Wong told Rappler in a text message.

He explained that the surge would depend on the “variant, vaccination level, masking and distancing behavior, ventilation, and weather.”

“Subvariants are more transmissible. Vaccination is only slightly higher than in January. The rainy season will drive more people indoors. But behavior and ventilation are unknown,” Wong said.

Epimetrics is a public health research institution focused on the achievement of health equity through rigorous and creative conception, execution, translation, and communication of health systems and policy research.

The rise in cases in the Philippines come as the country detected cases of the more transmissible subvariants of Omicron – BA.2.12, BA.2,12.1, and BA.4. The DOH on May 17 confirmed local transmission of BA.2.12.1 after local cases were detected in Western Visayas and Metro Manila. To date, a total of 17 cases have been detected of this Omicron offshoot.

BA.2.12.1 spreads easily, experts have said, and it is believed to be up to 27% more transmissible than BA.2, the dominant subvariant of Omicron in the Philippines and the rest of the world. As for BA.4, experts have said that the faster transmission is likely because of its ability to evade immune protection induced by prior infection or vaccination.

While other countries were already reeling from the surge in infections driven by the Omicron subvariants, Wong said that the “combined infection- and vaccine-induced immunity have protected us for the last three months.”

“Unfortunately, the new subvariants have some immune escape potential. How much is not exactly known,” he said.

The DOH on Monday, May 23, said that cases tallied from May 16 to 22 increased by 9.9% compared to the previous week.

What needs to be done now?

Wong said that the government needs to “reinvigorate the flagging vaccination program, enforce indoor ventilation standards, remind the public to observe minimum public health standards.”

Roughly 62% of all Filipinos have been fully vaccinated against the deadly virus. While additional doses may be on the way for more groups, at least 30% of Filipinos have yet to receive a single dose. Meanwhile, uptake of first boosters also remains slow with just 13.7 million or 25% of the 54.4 million eligible Filipinos having gotten their additional shot. 

Hospitals need to prepare surge capacity as early as now to prevent overcrowding when the spike in cases happens, Wong said.

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COVID-19 Weekly Watch: Omicron subvariants come to PH. Frequent boosters next?


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Bonz Magsambol

Bonz Magsambol is a multimedia reporter for Rappler, covering health, education, and social welfare. He first joined Rappler as a social media producer in 2016.