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Philippines detects Omicron subvariant BA.4

The Department of Health (DOH) on Saturday said a Filipino who flew in from the Middle East earlier this month was found to be infected with Omicron subvariant BA.4.

In a statement, the DOH said the man arrived in the country on May 4 and his positive test result for the subvariant was from a specimen collected on May 8.

"He was asymptomatic," the department said.

"Further information about the first BA.4 case [the] DOH detected is being verified by the concerned Regional Epidemiology and Surveillance Unit (RESU). The immediate priority is to ensure the case has been cared for and his close contacts quarantined to interrupt transmission."

According to the DOH, the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control (ECDC) sees Omicron BA.4 as a variant of concern, so it can either spread faster or cause worse illness.

"BA.4’s faster transmission is likely because of its ability to evade immune protection induced by prior infection and/or vaccination, particularly if this has waned over time. While the ECDC has not observed any change in severity for BA.4 compared to other Omicron subvariants, we must be careful because faster transmission will lead to a spike in cases that could overwhelm our hospitals and clinics," the department said.

In the meantime, the DOH "strongly advised" LGUs "to proactively seek the unvaccinated and those eligible for boosters, and to make it convenient to get a jab."

The agency also asked the public to get vaccinated against COVID-19 and receive booster shots as soon as possible as well as continue following the health protocols.

'No cause for concern'

Last month, the DOH said the new subvariants of the highly transmissible Omicron variant detected in other countries, such as the BA.4 and BA.5, should “not be any cause of concern.” 

The World Health Organization (WHO) earlier said BA.4 and BA.5, sister variants of the original BA.1 Omicron variant, were added to its list for monitoring. The WHO is also already tracking BA.1 and BA.2—now globally dominant—as well as BA.1.1 and BA.3.

“Although there have been detected cases in South Africa, Botswana, Belgium, Denmark and the UK, this should not be any cause of concern,” the DOH said.

“There are also early indications that these new sub-lineages are increasing as a share of genomically confirmed cases in South Africa. There [is] currently no reported spike in cases, admissions or deaths in South Africa,” it added.


On Tuesday, the DOH reported that it had detected local transmission of the Omicron subvariant BA.2.12.1.

Health Undersecretary Maria Rosario Vergeire, however, stressed that local transmission is not the same as community transmission.

"This is not a community transmission where the infection is already so widespread that linkages cannot be traced anymore," she said. — with a report from Ted Cordero/VBL, GMA News