CEBU CITY, Philippines – The Philippines’ Department of Health (DOH) announced on Tuesday, October 18, that it had detected the country’s first cases of the more transmissible COVID-19 Omicron subvariant XBB.
The DOH said the 81 cases were detected in two regions but did not specify which regions.
According to DOH officer-in-charge Maria Rosario Vergeire, 70 of the detected cases have since recovered, while eight are under isolation. The status of the other three were unknown.
Vergeire said that the XBB subvariant has an even higher immune evasion ability than BA.5. While the XBB subvariant is more transmissible, and may evade vaccine immunity, the DOH said there was no evidence that it causes more severe disease.
“According to the Singapore Ministry of Health, there is no evidence that proves that this new subvariant causes more severe illness,” Vergeire said in Filipino.
The spike in COVID-19 cases in Singapore is largely attributed to the said subvariant. On Saturday, October 15, Singapore’s Health Minister Ong Ye Kung said the waves of infections would likely peak mid-November, calling it a “short and sharp wave.”
Singapore has lifted almost all of its COVID-19 protocols and travel restrictions, making masks optional from August 29 except on public transit and healthcare facilities.
The Philippines followed this policy shortly after, making masks optional outdoors last September 12.
So far, Vergeire said she doesn’t see any reason to impose more restrictions despite the detection of the XBB subvariant in the country.
“For now, we don’t see any reason to tighten restrictions,” Vergeire said in Filipino. “The life cycle of a virus includes mutations and new variants. The system is ready for these new cases.”
According to the DOH’s latest data, at least 73.4 million Filipinos are now fully vaccinated against COVID-19. Over 20.3 million individuals have received their first booster, while 3.2 million have received their second booster so far.
On the bivalent Omicron boosters, Vergeire said they are in “constant coordination” with Moderna and Pfizer and have expressed their interest to the manufacturers about entering into a deal for the Omicron-specific boosters.
Meanwhile, the XBC variant is currently under monitoring and investigation, according to the DOH. XBC is said to be a recombinant of Delta and BA.2.
At least 193 cases have been detected in 11 regions of the country.
The World Health Organization has yet to determine the XBC variant’s risk. – Rappler.com