MANILA (UPDATE) - Three more cases of the COVID-19 omicron BA.2.12.1 subvariant have been detected in the Philippines, bringing the total to 17, the Department of Health said Tuesday.
Two local cases and one returning Filipino with the subvariant were found in Western Visayas, according to Health Undersecretary Maria Rosario Vergeire.
The returning Filipino came from the US and is fully vaccinated, one of the local cases is also fully vaccinated, and the status of the remaining patient is still being verified, Vergeire said.
The DOH is verifying if the newly detected cases have finished their quarantine, she added.
The first 14 cases in the country of the highly transmissible subvariant were broken down as follows: 2 local cases in Metro Manila and 12 in Puerto Princesa--comprised of 11 foreign travelers and 1 local individual.
In total, the country has 16 cases of local transmission and 1 case from a returning overseas Filipino, Vergeire said. Local transmission is defined as local cases "which cannot be epidemiologically linked to cases with significant international travel history," according to the DOH.
"'Di pa ho ito community transmission kung saan malawakan na ang pagkalat at 'di ma-trace ang lineages ng kaso," Vergeire told reporters.
(This is not community transmission yet wherein infection has spread widely and we can't trace the lineage of the case.)
The BA.2.12.1, a sublineage of BA.2, has been detected in 23 countries. It comprises majority of COVID-19 cases in the United States. It is presently not a variant of interest or variant of concern.
"While this sublineage has so far not been observed to lead to more severe disease or fatality, it has the potential for immune escape," the DOH said in a statement.
The health agency said it is coordinating with local governments in intensifying the detection and isolation of cases, and reinforcing health system capacity to prevent a potential spike in cases.
“Testing using RT-PCR is strongly advised during active surveillance as the method also allows for genomic sequencing. Large clusters should be prioritized for investigation, and contact tracing for cases belonging to these clusters should be conducted,” Vergeire said.
Special vaccination teams will also be deployed to areas where the subvariant has been detected, the DOH said. Vergeire urged the public to practice minimum health standards and get vaccinated and boosted to prevent further transmission of the subvariant.
"If only we wear our masks properly, if we do not go to these crowded areas, we assure there's adequate ventilation, we frequently wash our hands, also we have ourselves vaccinated, we can cut the transmission of the disease," she said.
"This will not go on further to have this widespread community transmission."
The country has recorded more than 3.67 million COVID-19 cases, as of Monday, of which, 2,688 are active, DOH data showed.