MANILA (UPDATE) — The country's first case of omicron subvariant XBB.1.16, known as "Arcturus," was detected in Iloilo province and the patient has recovered, the Department of Health said on Wednesday.
"The detected XBB.1.16 case in Iloilo Province was asymptomatic and has already recovered," the DOH said in a statement.
The agency reported the first "Arcturus" case in its latest biosurveillance report issued this week.
XBB.1.16 is a descendent lineage of XBB, a recombinant of two BA.2 descendent lineages. It has the ability to evade immunity and is believed to be more transmissible.
"Based on the latest risk assessment by the World Health Organization last April 17, 2023, no changes in severity have been reported in countries where XBB.1.16. are reported to be circulating," the DOH said.
"There may have been slight increases in bed occupancy in India and Indonesia, but levels are still much lower compared to the effects of the previous variants. Overall, risk assessment is said to be low," the agency added.
The WHO designated the XBB.1.16 as a variant of interest or VOI last week following a sustained increase in its prevalence. It has so far spread to 33 countries.
The DOH urged the public to employ more layers of protection such as wearing of masks, isolating when sick and ensuring good airflow in public places.
The agency also urged Filipinos to get their vaccine and booster shots as immunization "remains to be the most effective and best long-term protection against the COVID-19 virus."
Adult Filipinos can now get their second COVID-19 boosters at their local health centers.
CONJUNCTIVITIS IN CHILDREN?
Early reports claimed the XBB.1.16 could cause conjunctivitis among children.
But the DOH said the World Health Organization "has yet to confirm symptoms of the omicron sublineage XBB.1.1.6 variant such as 'sticky eyes' or conjunctivitis."
"In general, COVID-19 exhibits flu-like symptoms such as fever, cough, fatigue, loss of taste or smell, sore throat, headache, body pain, and diarrhea – among others," the agency said in a statement.
The DOH, however, noted that other symptoms might vary from case to case and ongoing studies were looking into possible COVID-19 effects.
"For proper diagnosis of symptoms, consult with your physician or head to the nearest health facility," it added.
In the past week, the Philippines saw a 32-percent increase in the daily average of coronavirus infections.
As of April 25, the country has 4,255 active COVID-19 cases, the DOH's COVID-19 Tracker showed.
Of some 4 million infections logged since the start of the pandemic, 66,444 led to death.
To date, around 78.4 million Filipinos are fully vaccinated against COVID-19.
Of the figure, more than 23.8 million have received their first booster dose while almost 4.4 million have gotten the second booster shot.