'Only a matter of time' until highly transmissible omicron BA.2.75 enters PH: expert

Gillan Ropero, ABS-CBN News

Posted at Jul 20 2022 01:21 PM | Updated as of Jul 20 2022 02:20 PM

MANILA — It is only "a matter of time" until the highly transmissible omicron subvariant BA.2.75 enters the Philippines, an infectious disease expert said Wednesday.

"This variant is in 10 or 12 countries including India and I cannot say it will not happen here to us. There's a possibility, it’s only a matter of when it will enter here," said Dr. Rontgene Solante, chief of the adult infectious diseases and tropical medicine unit of San Lazaro Hospital. 

"We will also have to prepare just like what we're doing now with BA.5," he said in a public briefing. 

Solante said he agreed with the Department of Health's decision not to impose tighter border controls even as new subvariants emerge.

He added that it was "too early to tell" the characteristics of the new subvariant.

"If you look at the genetic tree of omicron, as they evolve there's always that increased transmissibility and the ability to evade vaccines. We will wait for more data if...it can really cause severe disease. When we look at variants, those are the important implications," he said.

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Video courtesy of PTV

The subvariant, nicknamed "Centaurus", first emerged in India in May and has since spread to around the United States, Britain, Germany, Australia, and several other countries. 

The World Health Organization's chief scientist Soumya Swaminathan said last week that the UN agency was closely tracking the strain, but there were "limited sequences to analyze".

"This sub-variant seems to have a few mutations on the receptor binding domain of the spike protein... so we have to watch that," she said in a tweeted video.

She added that it was "too early to know" how well the strain can evade immunity or how severe it was.

Antoine Flahault, director of the Institute of Global Health at the University of Geneva, told AFP that BA.2.75's spread in India indicated it could be more transmissible than the BA.5 Omicron subvariant, which has been driving waves in Europe and the US.

"It seems to be becoming the dominant strain in India -- the question is will it become the dominant strain all over the world?"

The Philippines has detected more cases of other highly transmissible subvariants BA.5, BA.4, and BA.2.12.1 in its recent whole genome sequencing.

Majority of its cities and towns remain under the lowest alert level due to low healthcare utilization rate even as COVID-19 cases rise. 

The country recorded 14,640 new COVID-19 cases in the previous week, reflecting about a 40-percent increase from a week before, data from the health department showed Monday.

 — With a report from Agence France-Presse