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Philippines detects one case of Omicron subvariant XBB.1.5

The Philippines has detected one case of the highly contagious Omicron subvariant XBB.1.5, according to the Department of Health (DOH) on Tuesday.

Based on the 1,078 samples sequenced by the Research Institute for Tropical Medicine (RITM) and the University of the Philippines - Philippine Genome Center (UP-PGC) last January 30 to February 3, 2023, at least 196 Omicron XBB subvariant including one case classified as XBB.1.5 were detected.

The DOH said all XBB cases were found in all regions except Region 8 and the Bangsamoro Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao.

It said the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control (ECDC) classified XBB.1.5 as an offshoot of the XBB subvariant and a Variant of Interest, due to its “increasing prevalence globally and enhanced immune evading properties.”

The Health Department said the subvariant has been detected in 59 countries across six continents, according to sequence submissions in GISAID.

The subvariant also accounts for 66.4% of cases in the United States from January 29 to February 4, 2023, according to the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

“However, currently available evidence for XBB.1.5 does not suggest any differences in disease severity and/or clinical manifestations compared to the original Omicron variant,” the DOH said.

“Currently, the subvariant is still reported under XBB by the WHO and will remain classified under Omicron until sufficient evidence arises showing that the virus characteristics are significantly different from Omicron,” it added.

The subvariant was earlier reported as the “most transmissible” of the COVID-19 subvariants to emerge so far.

Meanwhile, the DOH also recorded 454 cases of BA.2.3.20, 79 tagged as XBC, and 28 cases of BA.5 including six cases classified as BQ.1.

It added that seven others tagged as BA.2.75 including three cases classified as CH.1.1 and three cases classified as BN.1, and 160 classified as other Omicron sublineages.

The Health Department said the additional BA.2.3.20 cases were local cases from all regions except Region 8, while the recently detected XBC cases were local cases from Regions 1, 2, 3, 4A, 4B, 7, 10, 11, 12, CAR, and Caraga.

Of the 28 BA.5 cases, one case was classified as a Returning Overseas Filipino (ROF), 25 were classified as local cases including six cases classified as BQ.1 from Regions 2, 3, 4A, 4B, 6, 10, 12, BARMM, Caraga, and NCR, and case type of the remaining two are currently being verified.

It added that the detected BA.2.75 cases are all local cases from Regions 2, 4A, 4B, 11, and NCR (including three cases classified as CH.1.1 and three cases classified as BN.1). 

In a separate statement on Tuesday night, the DOH, citing the ECDC, said the CH.1.1, a sublineage of BA.2.75, was tagged as variant under monitoring (VUM).

The DOH, however, said the World Health Organization (WHO) has not provided specific classification yet on the said subvariants.

The Health department said it is continuously monitoring these COVID-19 variants and coordinating with the WHO for more guidance.

“The DOH also clarifies that even with these detections of these variants and subvariants, the important indicator is that our hospitals remain to have manageable number of COVID-19 admissions and severe/critical cases are manageable,” it said.

“Just like any other variants and subvariants which had been detected, the DOH employs everyone to comply with our usual minimum public health standards, get vaccinated/boosted, and know the individual risk assessment in all activities,” it added.— RSJ, GMA Integrated News