Metro Manila and certain provinces in Luzon have registered slight increases in COVID-19 positivity rate over the past week, but other areas showed slight decline.
Meanwhile, medical experts disclosed that Omicron BQ.1, a new sublineage of the highly transmissible Omicron subvariant, has been detected in the country.
According to the independent OCTA Research Group which conducted the study on Nov. 29-26, this year, the positivity rate in the National Capital Region went up to from 7.5 percent to 11.1 percent during the week in review.
OCTA fellow Dr. Guido David, explained that positivity rate refers to the number of people who were found positive for COVID among a group who were tested for the virus.
The OCTA research also indicated that positivity rates in other Luzon provinces such as Batangas, Benguet, Bulacan, Cagayan, Ilocos Norte, Ilocos Sur, Kalinga, La Union, and Pangasinan also went up.
Isabela recorded the recent highest positivity rate in Luzon with 44.4 percent, although down from 49.4 percent on November 19.
Luzon provinces that showed a decline in positivity rates over the same period were Albay, Bataan, Camarines Sur, Cavite, Isabela, Laguna, Nueva Ecija, Pampanga, Quezon, Rizal, Tarlac, and Zambales.
In the larger picture, the Philippines on Sunday recorded 1,326 new COVID-19 cases—the fifth straight day that more than 1,000 new cases were logged.
The Department of Health (DOH) said that NCR recorded the most cases in the last two weeks with 3,874, followed by Calabarzon with 1,961, and Western Visayas with 1,293.
Currently, 14 cases of BQ.1 have reportedly been found in the Philippines based on the latest genome sequencing.
Dr. Rontege Solante, an infectious disease expert, said COVID-19 vaccinations should be intensified following the detection of the BQ.1 sub-variant.
On Friday, the DOH reported that 14 cases of BQ.1 have been detected based on the latest genome sequencing of UP-Philippine Genome Center, Research Institute for Tropical Medicine, and San Lazaro Hospital from October 28 to November 18.
“The longer you are from getting the vaccine, the earlier you got your primary dose, and you still don’t have a booster, the more vulnerable you are to COVID-19 mutations,” Dr. Rontgene Solante told TeleRadyo.
Solante said the number of COVID-19 cases in the country is now manageable because a huge number of the people have been vaccinated.
“We still have vulnerable populations, those with comorbidities, or those who got the primary vaccine but not the booster, we encourage you to get the vaccine for a happy Christmas, so there won’t be virus transmission at home, and also to protect yourselves against severe infection,” he said.
The physician said the public should take advantage of the two-day special vaccination drive that will take place in December.
“The government will be having the National Vaccination Day, I think December 5-7. This is our chance, we need to encourage everyone to get the booster if they haven’t gotten it for us to prepare so that when Christmad comes around, we are better protected against severe infection,” he said.
The BQ.1, which is a sublineage of omicron BA.5, is considered a variant of interest (VOI) by the European Center for Disease Control.
A VOI is coronavirus variant with genetic changes that are predicted or known to alter virus characteristics such as transmissibility, disease severity and immune escape.
Solante said the BQ.1 has so far been detected in 73 countries. It is driving up COVID-19 infections in the US, UK, and parts of Europe.
The possible increase in COVID-19 infections in the country due to the Omicron subvariant BQ.1 may only be less than 5,000 per day, Dr. Edsel Salvana said.
In a public briefing, Salvana said COVID-19 cases may rise with the detection of BQ.1, a sublineage of the highly transmissible Omicron BA.5 subvariant.
However, he said most of these new cases are expected to be mild only if those infected are fully vaccinated and have received their booster shots.
“I think that if BQ.1 does cause a higher number of cases, it’s not that big. Maybe that won’t exceed 5,000 cases, and then most of them will be mild and won’t need to be hospitalized,” Salvana said.
DOH officer-in-charge Maria Rosario Vergeire said BQ.1 is “more transmissible and highly immune evasive” compared to other Omicron subvariants.
However, Salvana, who is also a member of the DOH Technical Advisory Group, said there is no evidence to prove yet that the BQ.1 is a more severe subvariant.
“BA.5 is the dominant subvariant in the world. Experts see that it has additional mutations that can increase its immune escape against infections in our vaccines, but there is no evidence that it is more severe,” he said.
Salvana also stressed that the current vaccines available in the country are still effective in preventing severe diseases caused by a COVID-19 infection.
“WHO has also said that the protection of our current vaccines is still effective. Even if it is not the
bivalent, the monovalent or the old vaccine remains effective in preventing severe disease,” he said.
“Although because it’s a new subvariant, and it’s the same lineage as Omicron, there are still more infections that get through but most of these are going to be mild,” he added.
The DOH earlier said they are in the process of negotiations with vaccine manufacturers Moderna and Pfizer regarding the procurement of the bivalent COVID-19 vaccines that could better protect against the Omicron variant.
The DOH also said these second-generation vaccines would be available in the country by the end of December.