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‘Stealth’ Omicron, dominant strain

Saloma said that notwithstanding its ‘stealth’ nature, the Omicron subvariant can still be detected through reverse transcription-polymerase chain reaction tests

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BA.2 or the “stealth” subvariant of the Omicron strain of Covid-19 is now the dominant variant in the Philippines in terms of local community transmission, the Philippine Genome Center (PGC) said Thursday.

PGC executive director Cynthia Saloma said in a Laging Handa briefing that the Philippines has joined countries like Denmark, United Kingdom, Singapore and India in grappling with “stealth” Omicron.

She said that notwithstanding its “stealth” nature, the Omicron subvariant can still be detected through reverse transcription-polymerase chain reaction (RT-PCR) tests.

This is despite initial information from other countries that the sub-lineage can escape even the RT-PCR test, she added.

“It can still be detected in RT-PCR tests,” Saloma assured the public. “It was called stealth Omicron because it lacks the deletion of 69-70 in the spike region that is really targeted by the commonly used RT-PCR kit in Europe and other countries,” she said.

Meanwhile, the Department of Health (DoH) reported 618 new Omicron variant cases, bringing the total confirmed caseload in the country to 1,153.

Based on the PGC’s latest batch of whole-genome sequencing, of the 677 samples sequenced, 618 tested were of the Omicron variant.

The health department said the stealth Omicron was found to be more prevalent in the latest batch of whole-genome sequencing.

“Both the original Omicron lineage, B.1.1.529, and its sub-lineages, BA.1 and BA.2, have been detected in the country,” it said.

The agency also revealed that the earliest detection of the BA.2 sub-lineage was on 31 December 2022.

There is no significant difference in BA.1 and BA.2 characteristics in terms of transmissibility or severity of disease, according to the DoH.

Despite this, the agency assured the public that the detection of the stealth Omicron variant in the country does not entail any significant change in the Covid-19 response.

It also vowed to continue to investigate why BA.2 has become more prevalent than BA.1.

The newly detected cases of Omicron variant were composed of 497 local cases and 121 Returning Overseas Filipinos.

Of the 497 local cases, 227 cases are from the National Capital Region, 71 from CALABARZON, 30 each from the Ilocos Region and Western Visayas, 28 from Eastern Visayas, and 27 from Central Luzon.

Twenty Omicron variant cases were detected in Central Visayas, 19 in Cagayan Valley, 13 in the Cordillera Administrative Region, and 10 cases in Davao Region. SOCCSKSARGEN had six cases, while there were two cases each from Bicol Region and MIMAROPA and one case from Northern Mindanao.

Based on the case list, 13 are still active, two cases have resulted in deaths, 560 cases had been tagged as recovered, while the status of the patients in the 43 cases is still being verified.

To date, there are a total of five deaths among confirmed Omicron cases.

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