The Emerging COVID-19 Omicron XBB and XBC Variants in the Philippines

kids more at risk from omicron

Following the holiday break in celebration of Undas, there may be an increase in COVID-19 cases in Metro Manila since those coming home from a long weekend in the provinces may have unintentionally managed to bring the virus back with them. According to the Philippines’ Department of Health (DOH), the total count of COVID-19 cases in the Philippines has surpassed 4 million. In the meantime, the recoveries were estimated to be greater than 3.9 million, with a number of fatalities of more than 64,000. As of now, 73.4 million Filipinos have been fully immunized through the COVID-19 vaccination, with 20.3 million having received their first booster dose. Viruses are continually evolving due to mutation, and these mutations can produce a new variant of the viral infection. A few other mutations succeed in making the virus more contagious or immune to remedies or immunizations. Since this infection mutates, it may keep changing and become more challenging to eradicate. Notwithstanding the variant, an increase in cases can have a significant impact on healthcare and well-being productive capacity. Regardless of whether a variant generates less serious infection in a broad sense, a rise in the overall amount of cases may result in more hospitalizations, greater pressure on health services, and foreseeably more fatalities. Like most of the other variants, the Omicron variant is composed primarily of several lineages and sublineages. Many such lineages are frequently very comparable to one another; but even so, there may well be variances among lineages that adversely impact the disease’s progression. In the latest update, COVID-19 Omicron subvariant XBB and variant XBC, which are more highly infectious and immune-evasive, have arrived in the country. According to a Department of Health (DOH) official, there has already been “localized community transmission” for both the COVID-19 Omicron subvariant XBB and XBC variants of the Covid-19 virus in certain areas across the Philippines.

Last October 18, the Philippines’ Department of Health (DOH) confirmed the very first cases of the COVID-19 Omicron subvariant XBB and the  COVID-19 Omicron XBC variant in the country. More than eighty-one (81) cases of COVID-19 Omicron subvariant XBB were discovered in two (2) regions around the Philippines, whilst also one hundred ninety-three (193) cases of COVID-19 Omicron XBC were revealed in eleven (11) regions, five (5) of these cases are fatalities. Because of the weakening of health protocols in place and the emergence of the highly communicable COVID-19 Omicron XBB subvariant and XBC variant, COVID-19 cases are expected to reach up to 18,000 by the month of December.

Truth be told, the Philippines’ Department of Health (DOH) stated that the country’s healthcare system is more adequately equipped now than it was when the COVID-19 pandemic got underway two years ago, bringing up the allocation of COVID-19 vaccines and medicines being used help stop the COVID-19 disease’s extreme evolution. Hence, the Philippines’ Department of Health (DOH) has confidently stated that the government agencies, led by the Inter-Agency Task Force (IATF) for the Management of Emerging Infectious Diseases, do not yet believe that it is necessary to toughen pandemic health procedures and protocols at this time.

So far, these are some of the things that we are aware of about the COVID-19 Omicron subvariant XBB and COVID-19 Omicron variant XBC:

  • COVID-19 Omicron subvariant XBB
    • According to the World Health Organization (WHO) expert panel, XBB and BQ.1 do not as of now veer away well enough from one another or from other Omicron lineages with added immune escape gene mutation to enforce classification as a variant of major worry or a novel category.
    • The XBB is a recombinant of two Omicron subvariants. COVID-19 Omicron subvariant XBB has mutated their surface protein in such a way that antibodies induced by either preceding infection or vaccination do not function against them as effectively. This is the reason they are so easily transmitted.
    • It should be understood that the Omicron subvariant XBB had first been discovered in India in August of this year. The COVID-19 Omicron subvariant XBB is widely recognized as being highly communicable, although an advisory committee found that Indian patients experienced mild symptoms with no increment in severity after acquiring this virus strain.
    • Although XBB has not been steadily interconnected to an increased number of new infections, preliminary findings indicate a higher risk of reinfection, particularly among individuals contaminated before the Omicron variant started appearing. The ability of XBB to generate new infection waves may be dependent on the magnitude and timescale of previous Omicron waves, as well as COVID-19 vaccine access.
  • COVID-19 Omicron variant XBC
    • There continues to be a scarcity of information on the COVID-19 Omicron variant XBC.
    • As reported by the Philippines’ Department of Health (DOH), the  COVID-19 Omicron variant XBC, which is believed to be a recombinant of Omicron BA.2 and Delta (B.1.617.2) variants, as of now, is still being tracked and studied. Fortunately, the Delta variant is still protected by existing vaccines.

With the recent monitoring of the Omicron XBB subvariant and XBC variant in the Philippines and acknowledging their confirmed probable highly resistant features, the Department of Health (DOH) emphasized that vaccines, irrespective of variant, continue to stay efficient in avoiding serious and vital COVID-19 symptoms, as well as fatality from COVID-19. Moreover, The Philippines’ Department of Health (DOH) is in close collaboration with Moderna and Pfizer and has played a pivotal role in attempting to enter together into an agreement for the development of Omicron-specific boosters. In addition, the Philippines is presently focusing on obtaining bivalent boosters that explicitly address the Omicron variant in addition to the existing COVID-19 strain. Bivalent vaccines are vaccinations that combat two strains of a viral disease.

The Philippines’ Department of Health (DOH) underscored that the country already has protective measures in place, such as the high number of Filipinos who have been fully vaccinated against COVID-19, the practice of having to wear face masks, and the readiness of public health care systems in the event of an upsurge in infectious diseases. Hence, it is still important for all Filipinos to observe minimum standard health protocols which are:

  • Wearing of facemasks, especially in public spaces
  • Practicing consistent hand hygiene. Wash your hands regularly or use alcohol-based hand sanitizer. Also, sanitize your things and surroundings as often as necessary.
  • Observing physical distancing of at least one meter.
  • Avoiding crowded and enclosed spaces as much as possible.
  • Adhering to work safety protocol outlines and strict health measures.

The Department of Health (DOH) also asserted that monitoring and surveillance will proceed to be carried out to make certain that potential epidemic risks are acknowledged as promptly as possible.

Read also: Things we can expect as COVID positivity rate in NCR drops

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Written by: MC Sanchez