The independent group OCTA Research on Saturday said that Omicron BQ.1, a sublineage of the highly transmissible BA.5 subvariant that was detected in the country, may cause a spike in COVID-19 cases and positivity rate.
Fourteen cases of BQ.1 were detected based on the latest genome sequencing by the UP-Philippine Genome Center, Research Institute for Tropical Medicine, and San Lazaro Hospital from October 28 to November 18.
“Actually, yun na nga sa tingin natin yung dahilan kung bakit may pagtaas sa bilang ng kaso at noong isang araw pa lang nagsisimula na tumaas yung positivity rate. Eh nabanggit ko na ito ay posibleng dahilan na may subvariant na nakapasok dito at hindi pa namin alam noon yung BQ.1 Pero ayun na nga, may balita na nga na nandito na nga sa ating bansa yung Omicron [subvariant] BQ.1,” David said in an interview with Super Radyo dzBB.
(Actually, I think that is the reason why there is an increase in the number of cases. And just the other day the positivity rate started to increase. I mentioned that it may be a possible reason, that there is a subvariant that entered and we didn't know about it before - the BQ.1. But now there is news that the Omicron subvariant BQ.1 is here in our country.)
David earlier said that another wave of COVID-19 infections may start in the National Capital Region (NCR) with the observed spike in its positivity rate. He said NCR’s seven-day COVID-19 positivity rate jumped from 7.4% on November 15 to 9.2% on November 22.
The OCTA fellow said aside from NCR, there is also an increase in the positivity rate in Camarines Sur, Tarlac, Aklan, areas in Western Visayas and Northern Luzon, La Union, Cordillera Region, Isabela, and Cebu.
He said that they are already monitoring the BQ.1 as it accounted for around 50% of cases in the United States (US).
“Ngayon 50% ng cases sa US ay BQ.1 tapos sa ibang bansa sa Europe ganun. So base sa mga datos hindi naman masyadong tumataas yung deaths or hospitalization dito sa mga bansang ito dahil sa Omicron BQ.1,” David said.
(Now 50% of the cases in the US are BQ.1 as well as in other countries in Europe. So based on the data, deaths or the hospitalization rate did not increase much in these countries due to Omicron BQ.1.)
“Karamihan ng cases mild or asymptomatic pero tulad ng mga sinasabi natin dati hindi naman nangangahulugan na ibig sabihin mild yung Omicron. Ibig sabihin lang kung bakunado tayo mas malakas yung proteksyon natin against severe infection of COVID pagbakunado. Pero paghindi bakunado usually similar lang din yung severity niya sa mga dating COVID-19 na variant,” he added.
(Most of the cases are mild or asymptomatic, but like what we said before, Omicron does not mean that it is mild, it just means that if we are vaccinated, our protection against severe infection of COVID is stronger. But if we are not vaccinated, the severity is usually similar to the previous COVID-19 variants.)
David then reminded the public to avoid being complacent and get vaccinated to prevent severe and critical cases due to COVID-19.
“Huwag tayong dapat maging kampante, kasi nga yun nga unang una kahit bakunado tayo meron pa rin tinatamaan ng severe na COVID-19 depende sa tao yan iba ibang cases at syempre kahit tayo ay bakunado at mild lang pwede rin natin madala yung sakit kasi pwede tayo maging carrier,” he said.
(We should not be complacent, because even if we are vaccinated, some people will still be infected with severe COVID-19, depending on the person. There are different cases, and even if we are vaccinated and have mild cases, we can still be a carrier of the disease.)
The OCTA fellow said BQ.1 is slightly similar to Omicron subvariants BA.5 and XBB, which can be highly infectious and highly immune evasive.
“Ang characteristics ng BQ.1, actually medyo similar siya sa BA.5 at XBB, highly infectious siya at mabilis makahawa at mataas yung immune escape niya so ibig sabihin or yung pag-evasive niya sa anti bodies mataas, ibig sabihin kahit bakunado na tayo or kahit may previous infection tayo pwede tayo mahawaan so yun ang isa sa mga characteristic ng Omicron,” he said.
(The characteristics of BQ.1 are quite similar to BA.5 and XBB, it is highly infectious and more transmissible, and the immune escape is high, so it means that the evasiveness to antibodies is high, which means that even if we are vaccinated or even if we've had a previous infection we can get infected so that is one of the characteristics of Omicron.)
“‘Yun nga sinasabi natin pagbakunado mas mataas yung protection against severe COVID-19. Hindi dapat tayo maging kampante or hindi natin ibalewala ito, hindi naman natin sinasabi huwag tayo lumabas ng bahay, patuloy ang pamumuhay natin pero kailangan lang yung pagiingat natin,” he added.
(That's what we advised - to get vaccinated. The protection against severe COVID-19 is higher. We should not be complacent or ignore it, we are not saying that we should not leave our houses, we continue in our daily life but we just need to be careful.)
Meanwhile, Department of Health (DOH) officer-in-charge Maria Rosario Vergeire also reiterated the department's appeal to the public to get vaccinated and boosted to prevent severe and critical cases and the spread of the viral disease.
The DOH said that COVID-19 vaccines continued to be effective against severe cases caused by detected variants.
US health regulators on Friday estimated that BQ.1 and closely related BQ.1.1 accounted for 16.6% of coronavirus variants in the US, nearly doubling from last week, while Europe expects them to become the dominant variants in a month.
The European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control said the variants are likely to drive up cases in the coming weeks to months in the European region. — DVM, GMA Integrated News