Omicron – PH Status

by: Sun Yu || Photo Credits: Rappler ||

 It was not so long ago when the number of COVID-19 cases dropped to a few hundreds. On December 18, 2021, there were only 22 new confirmed cases. However, on the first day of 2022, 4,445 tested positive, and the numbers have only risen since then. 

In the past few weeks, the Philippines tallied its highest number of daily reported COVID-19 cases. As of January 10, 2022, there have been an additional 33,169 cases, surpassing the 30K nation’s infection mark. According to Dr. Guido David of the OCTA group, this may continue to increase in the coming days, and there is no certainty when it will peak. 

 In the last week of November, news broke out globally, announcing the new COVID-19 variant: the B.1.1.529 variant, more commonly known as the Omicron variant— a mutated coronavirus that was first reported in South Africa on November 24, 2021. According to a tweet by Bill Hanage, Associate Professor of Epidemiology at Harvard School of Public Health, “Omicron appears roughly 2-3 times as likely to transmit as Delta, and is expected to show a tendency to clustered transmission in large gatherings.” In fact, according to the UN, Delta has only 9 mutations on its spike protein, compared to that of Omicron with 32 mutations on its spike protein and 18 distinct mutations having a total of 50 mutations, which was the key to identifying the new variant. It has 70 times faster replication, and a higher possibility of re-infection.

According to the United States Center of Diseases Control (CDC) director, Dr. Rochelle Walensky, as of December 22, 2021, 70% of COVID cases in the US are Omicron, similar to other countries. The Philippines has yet to identify the numbers because of its incapability to detect 100% of Omicron cases. Yet it is safe to assume that the current surge is composed mainly of the Omicron variant due to the mutations that provide stronger infection and higher transmissibility. 

Oksana Pyzik, Lecturer at University College of London, said in an interview with Al Jazeera that the five most common symptoms of the Omicron variant are runny nose, fatigue (mild or severe), headache, sore throat, and sneezing. Other symptoms, previously known to other variants,  include coughing, shortness of breath, fever, muscle aches, especially on the lower back (New York Times, 2022), and loss of smell, have been less observed in Omicron. According to Vergeire, the first cases of Omicron in the Philippines had mild symptoms, similar to most patients worldwide. 

Due to this faster rate of transmission, stricter restrictions will be implemented nationwide, announced presidential spokesperson, Karlo Nograles, on Wednesday. Areas under Alert Level 3— starting from January 14, 2022 to January 31, 2022— will include Benguet, Kalinga and Abra in the Cordillera Administrative Region; La Union, Ilocos Norte and Pangasinan in Ilocos; Nueva Vizcaya, Isabela and Quirino in Cagayan Valley; Nueva Ecija and Tarlac in Central Luzon; Quezon in Calabarzon; Occidental Mindoro and Oriental Mindoro in Mimaropa; and Camarines Sur and Albay in Bicol; Bacolod City, Aklan, Capiz and Antique in Western Visayas; Cebu City and Mandaue City in Central Visayas; Tacloban City in Eastern Visayas; Cagayan de Oro City in Northern Mindanao; Davao City in Davao region; Butuan City and Agusan del Sur in Caraga; and Cotabato City in the Bangsamoro Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao. 

Experts say that the best thing to do is avoid social gatherings, maintain social distancing, and, if experiencing symptoms, self-isolate. But, most importantly, get vaccinated. Though there have been reports that current vaccines have reduced immunity against the Omicron variant, they are still effective against the severe symptoms and cases of breakthrough infection. Vaccination programs, including those for booster shots, are still ongoing, and some municipalities have provided incentives to encourage more people to get vaccinated. 

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