The country’s first case of the COVID-19 Omicron subvariant XBB.1.5 was found in a Filipino with no recent travel history, the Department of Health (DOH) said Tuesday.
DOH officer-in-charge Maria Rosario Vergeire said the patient has already recovered after experiencing mild symptoms of the disease.
XBB.1.5, dubbed the “Kraken,” is the most transmissible COVID-19 subvariant so far, experts have said.
Vergeire said the DOH was able to identify the patient’s close contacts, who were all asymptomatic. The patient’s sample was collected on Jan. 9.
The DOH said the European Center for Disease Prevention and Control classified XBB.1.5, an offshoot of the XBB subvariant, “as a variant of interest due to its increasing prevalence globally and enhanced immune-evading properties.”
The variant has been detected in 59 countries across six continents, according to sequence submissions in GISAID, a global platform for COVID-19 data.
Based on estimates from the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the subvariant accounted for 66.4 percent of cases in the US from Jan. 29 to Feb. 4, 2023.
According to the rapid risk assessment conducted by the World Health Organization, there is moderate-strength evidence for increased risk of transmission and immune escape, the DOH report read.
However, currently available evidence for XBB.1.5 does not suggest any differences in disease severity and clinical manifestations compared to the original omicron variant, it added.
“Currently, the subvariant is still reported under XBB by the WHO and will remain classified under omicron until sufficient evidence arises showing that the virus characteristics are significantly different from omicron,” the DOH said.
Also on Tuesday, the DOH said two more countries have started offering to donate bivalent COVID-19 vaccines to the Philippines.
The DOH is coordinating with these undisclosed countries to finalize the agreements, Vergeire said during a press briefing.
During last week’s briefing, Vergeire disclosed that a country had pledged to donate more than 300,000 bivalent vaccines.
Bivalent vaccines are modified jabs that target the Omicron variant and the original form of the virus.
She also revealed that some 1 million doses of bivalent vaccines from COVAX facility, the United Nations-backed international vaccine-sharing scheme, were expected to arrive in Manila by the end of March.
The DOH is already finalizing the guidelines on the use of the bivalent vaccines.
Vergeire said the agency would have its last meeting with the Strategic Advisory Group of Experts for emerging and reemerging infectious diseases.
She said she hoped they could get the guidelines out to local governments next week so they can start their preparations.
The DOH earlier said it would administer the first batch of bivalent vaccines to vulnerable groups such as healthcare workers, senior citizens and individuals with comorbidities.
Over 73.8 million Filipinos are fully vaccinated against COVID-19.
The total includes 21.4 million people who have received their first boosters while 3.9 million have gotten their second boosters.