Press Release | 17 May 2022

The Department of Health (DOH), after careful assessment of available data provided by the University of the Philippines - Philippine Genome Center (UP-PGC), UP-PGC Visayas, Research Institute for Tropical Medicine (RITM), and the regional/local epidemiology and surveillance units (R/LESUs), confirms the local transmission of Omicron subvariant BA.2.12.1.

Cases have been detected in the National Capital Region, Western Visayas Region, and Puerto Princesa City. Local transmission means that local cases have been detected which cannot be epidemiologically linked to cases with significant international travel history. The most recent evidence indicates that Omicron BA.2.12.1 is highly transmissible due to additional mutations, compared to the original Omicron strain. While this sublineage has so far not been observed to lead to more severe disease or fatality, it has the potential for immune escape.

“Now that we have local transmission of Omicron BA.2.12.1, we must act fast. We are asking our health facilities and local government units to actively look for cases. Immediate isolation is advised for any person who has fever, cough, colds, sore or itchy throat, and other COVID-like signs and symptoms. Testing using RT-PCR is strongly advised during active surveillance as the method also allows for genomic sequencing. Large clusters should be prioritized for investigation, and contact tracing for cases belonging to these clusters should be conducted,” said DOH Spokesperson Undersecretary Maria Rosario S. Vergeire.

The DOH and the concerned local government units (LGUs) are now conducting response operations following the government’s established 4-Door Strategy. Travel restrictions (Door 1) and intensified screening and testing at the border (Door 2) are not strongly considered now because of high vaccination coverage with the primary series and better treatment and management options for all severities of cases. Immediately detecting and isolating cases (Door 3) and strengthening health system capacity to prepare for a potential spike in cases (Door 4) shall be reinforced further. Special vaccination teams are being prepared for immediate deployment to areas where the subvariant has been detected, to help provide additional population protection through vaccination and boosters.

“We are in a better position now to fight back against COVID-19. The DOH, through its Centers for Health Development and the LGUs, is now priming laboratory networks, temporary treatment and monitoring facilities, clinics, and hospitals to be ready. We must all follow the health protocols - wear the best-fitted mask, isolate when sick, and choose good airflow. While the cases are low and the healthcare capacities are not overwhelmed, now is the best time to be vaccinated and get boosted as soon as eligible,” added Secretary of Health, Dr. Francisco T. Duque III.