MANILA, Philippines — A new COVID-19 subvariant has arrived in the Philippines after a Filipino man who returned to the country from the Middle East earlier this month was found to have BA.4, another Omicron sublineage , which can transmit faster than previous lines of the virus, the Department of Health (DOH) announced Saturday.
The DOH said the asymptomatic Filipino arrived on May 4. Four days later, he tested positive for the Omicron subline, making him the country’s first BA.4 case, the DOH said in a statement.
A week earlier, the health department confirmed the detection of the Omicron subvariant BA.2.12.1.
The DOH did not say whether the man was quarantined at home or at a government facility. It said it was working with affected local governments to “quickly implement detection and isolation activities.”
“Further information on the first BA.4 case discovered by the DOH is being reviewed by the affected regional epidemiology and surveillance unit. The immediate priority is to ensure the case has been addressed and his close contacts have been quarantined to disrupt transmission,” the DOH added. BA.4 is among the emerging Omicron subvariants being monitored by local health authorities.
“BA.4’s more rapid transmission is likely due to its ability to evade immune protection induced by prior infection and vaccination, particularly when this has waned over time,” the DOH said.
On May 12, the European Center for Disease Prevention and Control (ECDC) upgraded the designation BA.4 to a “variant of concern”. However, the World Health Organization classifies it as a “variant of lines of concern under surveillance” along with BA.5, both of which are referred to as “sister lines” of BA.1 and BA.2.
The Omicron BA.1 and BA.2, the latter designated as the “Stealth” sub-variant, have been spotted in the country. However, the combination of the two sub-lineages, referred to as “XE”, has not yet been recorded in the country.
“Although the ECDC did not observe any change in BA.4 severity compared to other Omicron subvariants, we must be cautious as faster transmission will result in an increase in cases that could overwhelm our hospitals and clinics,” he said DOH.
Carlito Galvez Jr., head of the National Task Force Against COVID-19, last month identified Omicron BA.2.12, BA.4 and BA.5 as three emerging COVID-19 subvariants that would be “very likely” to hit the Philippines after it caused it Spikes in infections in South Africa, the United States and Europe.
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