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Arcturus not behind increase in COVID-19 cases —DOH advisor

There is no truth to observations that Omicron subvariant XBB.1.16, or Arcturus, is causing the increase of new COVID-19 cases in the country, infectious diseases expert Dr. Edsel Salvana said Tuesday.

Salvana, who is also a member of the Department of Health (DOH) Technical Advisory Group for Infectious Disease, said so far there is only one detected Arcturus case in the Philippines.

This first recorded Arcturus case was from Iloilo province and was asymptomatic. The patient has also recovered, according to the DOH on April 26.

“In fact, itong mga sinasabi nila na Arcturus daw ang nagda-drive ng cases sa ngayon dito sa Pilipinas, walang katotohanan ‘yun. Sa ating latest genome [sequence] isa pa lang nahahanap natin and most of it is other Omicron subvariants at this time,” Salvana said in an interview on Unang Balita.

(In fact, their claims that Arcturus is the one driving cases right now here in the Philippines are untrue. Based on our latest genome sequence, we have only detected one Arcturus case and most of the current cases are other Omicron subvariants.)

Salvana said there is a slight increase in cases observed in some countries due to the XBB.1.16, but there is no evidence that shows that it causes more severe sickness.

He also said current available vaccines are still effective against Arcturus and is unlikely that hospitals may get overwhelmed because of it.

“Gumagana ang mga bakuna and I think we're on our way to endemicity. Nakita na naman natin, after ‘yung Omicron tumama nung January 2022, itong kahit Omicron sublineages… hindi naman nag-spike ng ganon kataas,” Salvana said.

(Vaccines still work and I think we're on our way to endemicity. We have seen that after Omicron hit in January 2022, other Omicron sublineages did not cause cases to spike that high.)

The DOH announced the detection of XBB.1.16  —a variant under monitoring by the World Health Organization (WHO) and European Center for Disease Prevention and Control (ECDC) — on Tuesday, based on the latest genome sequencing from April 12 to 17.

The DOH said that Arcturus “is a sublineage of the Omicron, which has the ability to evade immunity and is said to be more transmissible.”

Citing WHO risk assessment on April 17, the agency said that no changes in severity have been reported in countries where Arcturus is said to be circulating.

WHO on Friday said COVID-19 no longer represents a global health emergency, three years after it was reported at its highest level of alert. —KBK, GMA Integrated News