MANILA (UPDATE) — A new variant of COVID-19 that was first detected in the United Kingdom appears to be more transmissible than omicron, an infectious disease specialist said Tuesday.
Dr. Rontgene Solante, chief of the Adult Infectious Diseases and Tropical Medicine Unit at San Lazaro Hospital in Manila, said the omicron XE variant is a recombinant of BA.1, the original strain of omicron, and BA.2 or sub-variant of omicron.
"When you have a combination of heavily mutated variant of concern, then you would expect that this recombinant omicron XE will be more transmissible than BA.1 and BA.2, and that will have implications, especially for now that a lot of the countries are already downgrading their alert level," he told ANC's "Rundown".
The XE, which according to the World Health Organization could be 10 percent more transmissible than the BA.2, has also been reported in Thailand.
Solante noted that so far, little is known about the XE.
"The only information is that it's more highly transmissible, more transmissible than the BA.2," said Solante, who is also a member of the government's vaccine expert panel.
"But the characteristic in terms of how it will evade our vaccines, will it cause severe infection, will it cause more people to be hospitalized, that we should know and we should be monitoring in the next days," he added.
The Department of Health is in talks with the United Nation's health agency on conducting genomic surveillance in light of the XE variant.
The BA.2 or "stealth" omicron is dominant worldwide and locally.
To ward off potential infections, Solante urged the public to strictly observe minimum public health standards and get booster shots.
He also encouraged everyone to get tested for COVID-19 if experiencing symptoms, in order to monitor the presence of XE in the country.
LAX ON COVID
A doctors' group lamented that the public had become complacent toward COVID-19.
Dr. Maricar Limpin, head of Philippine College of Physicians, said many, especially the elderly, have yet to get their booster shots.
"Kailangan ho talaga 'yung information drive na palaging ipaalala sa mga kababayan natin na ang virus ay naririto pa," she told ABS-CBN's TeleRadyo also on Tuesday.
She said the public's mood on the pandemic had changed as coronavirus infections in the country had dropped. There were also calls for downgrading the quarantine classification to Alert Level 0, she added.
With the detection of XE in Thailand, Limpin expressed concern that the hybrid variant could reach the Philippines soon.
"Nangangamba kami na ito ang pagsimula talaga ng mabilisan ng pagkalat ng virus," she said.
She noted that the Philippines had opened its borders to international travelers at the start of the month.
Metro Manila and nearly 200 other areas are under the lowest of the country's 5 pandemic alert levels until April 15, as COVID-19 cases continued to decline.
From March 28 to April 3, the Philippines recorded an average of 382 daily fresh COVID-19 cases, which is 2 percent lower than the cases reported from the previous week.
As of Monday, the country's cumulative total cases stood at 3,679,761,
Some 12.15 million out of 46.47 million eligible individuals have received a booster shot as of Sunday, the DOH said. A total of 65.99 million people have been fully vaccinated as of March 31, according to data gathered by the ABS-CBN Investigative and Research Group.