The Department of Health (DOH), through its Centers for Health Development (CHDs), University of the Philippines – Philippine Genome Center (UP-PGC), University of the Philippines – National Institutes of Health (UP-NIH), and the Research Institute for Tropical Medicine (RITM), recently detected cases positive for BA.2.12.1. It is a sublineage of the currently circulating Omicron variant which has been flagged by the United States Center for Disease Control (US-CDC) to be observed in increasing COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations in the United States of America.

Scientists are still characterizing this Omicron sublineage in terms of transmissibility and ability to cause more severe disease. Preliminary data have shown that their mutations are associated with higher transmissibility and ability to evade immune response. However, currently available evidence does not suggest changes in disease severity or clinical manifestations.

The DOH COVID-19 surveillance system first detected BA.2.12.1 in two local cases from the National Capital Region who had no international travel history and were from the same cluster. Both cases experienced mild symptoms and tested positive last April 22, 2022. They are currently asymptomatic and have completed home isolation. The cases have been fully vaccinated.

Twelve other BA.2.12.1 cases were also detected – 11 foreign nationals and one local case – from a tourist cluster in Palawan. The cases were part of a group who departed for a diving exploration last April 23, 2022. In that group, there were 18 Filipino crew and 25 foreign nationals. Three days after departure, one of the foreign nationals experienced nasal congestion. One local and three other foreign nationals developed mild symptoms 1-2 days after. Fifteen tested positive in RT-PCR upon arrival back at the port last April 29. Only 12 samples were eligible for whole genome sequencing and all came back positive for BA.2.12.1. All cases are currently asymptomatic and have been discharged from facility isolation. All were fully vaccinated. Their 28 close contacts from the ship have tested negative and have completed quarantine.

The DOH assures the public that our country’s surveillance systems are able to detect new cases and characterize their lineage. Should a variant of concern (VOC) enter the country, expert projections indicate a possible rise and peak in COVID-19 cases, especially with the currently low booster coverage among the eligible population. Our vaccines are proven to be safe and effective, which helps keep healthcare utilization low and the economy reopening under Alert Level 1. Everyone eligible for a booster shot is highly encouraged to get the jab done, as immunity is proven to wane over time.