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BQ.1 spike may only be less than 5,000 COVID-19 cases daily —health expert

The possible increase in COVID-19 infections in the country due to the Omicron subvariant BQ.1 may only be less than 5,000 per day, an infectious diseases expert said Monday.

In a public briefing, Dr. Edsel Salvana said COVID-19 cases may rise with the detection of BQ.1, a sublineage of the highly transmissible Omicron BA.5 subvariant.

However, he said most of these new cases are expected to be mild only if those infected are fully vaccinated and have received their booster shots.

“Sa tingin ko, kung sakali man na magdulot ng mas mataas na number of cases, hindi gaano kalaki. Hindi naman siguro lalampas ‘yan ng 5,000 cases, and then karamihan dito ay magiging mild at hindi naman kakailanganing i-ospital,” he said.

(I think that if BQ.1 does cause a higher number of cases, it's not that big. Maybe that won't exceed 5,000 cases, and then most of them will be mild and won't need to be hospitalized.)

The Department of Health (DOH) reported on Friday that 14 cases of BQ.1 have been detected based on the latest genome sequencing of UP-Philippine Genome Center, Research Institute for Tropical Medicine, and San Lazaro Hospital from October 28 to November 18.

DOH officer-in-charge Maria Rosario Vergeire said BQ.1 is “more transmissible and highly immune evasive” compared to other Omicron subvariants.

However, Salvana, who is also a member of the DOH Technical Advisory Group, said there is no evidence to prove yet that the BQ.1 is a more severe subvariant. 

“[Ang] BA.5 ang dominant subvariant sa mundo. Nakikita nila na meron na naman itong taglay na additional mutations na maaaring makapag-increase ng kanyang immune escape against infections sa ating mga vaccines, ngunit wala namang ebidensya na mas severe ito,” he said.

(BA.5 is the dominant subvariant in the world. Experts see that it has additional mutations that can increase its immune escape against infections in our vaccines, but there is no evidence that it is more severe.)

He also stressed that the current vaccines available in the country are still effective in preventing severe diseases caused by a COVID-19 infection.

“Sinabi na rin ng WHO (World Health Organization), patuloy pa rin ang proteksyon ng ating mga current vaccines. Kahit hindi ‘yung bivalent, ‘yung monovalent, ‘yung lumang bakuna ay nananatiling epektibo sa pag-prevent ng severe disease,” Salvana said.

(WHO has also said that the protection of our current vaccines is still effective. Even if it is not the bivalent, the monovalent or the old vaccine remains effective in preventing severe disease.)

“Bagamat, ayun nga, dahil panibagong variant ito, at kalahi niya ‘yung Omicron, mas marami pa ring nakakalusot na infections, but most of these are going to be mild,” he added.

(Although because it's a new subvariant, and it's the same lineage as Omicron, there are still more infections that get through but most of these are going to be mild.)

DOH previously said they are in the process of negotiations with vaccine manufacturers Moderna and Pfizer regarding the procurement of the bivalent COVID-19 vaccines that could better protect against the Omicron variant.

The agency said these second-generation vaccines would be available in the country by the end of December. —KBK, GMA Integrated News

Tags: COVID-19, news