PH Genome Center eyes retracing COVID-19 samples amid Omicron threat

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Metro Manila (CNN Philippines, November 30) — The Philippine Genome Center sees the need to backtrack older COVID-positive samples to trace possible cases of the Omicron variant in the country.

PGC executive director Cynthia Saloma on Monday said the biosurveillance team will review samples from early November, when the new variant was detected in South Africa.

"I think we need to backtrack samples from early November and then going forward, all other samples coming into the Philippines," she said during a meeting with President Rodrigo Duterte.

The official said the country has not yet detected a case of the Omicron variant after reviewing 18,000 samples.

The Philippines detected the first local cases of the Delta in July, but retrospective sampling showed it was able to enter the country as early as March.

The Department of Health (DOH) on Monday told local governments to shift back to using RT-PCR tests, instead of antigen tests. DOH Epidemiology Bureau Director Dr. Thea de Guzman said RT-PCR tests should be used so the samples can be sent to the Philippine Genome Center.

OCTA Research fellow Guido David backed the return to using RT-PCR tests to detect Omicron cases even if the tests deemed as the gold standard are more expensive than antigen tests.

"I think it is a good move because we need RT-PCR tests right now," he told CNN Philippines' The Source on Tuesday. "The reason they are having many surges right now in many countries in Europe, is that a lot of the countries have actually stopped using RT PCR testing. So now the cases have increased there."

The DOH previously recommended antigen tests for close contacts of COVID-19 patients or those already exhibiting flu-like symptoms.

The World Health Organization said early studies suggest there may be an increased risk of reinfection with the Omicron variant of concern. The international body, however, said it is not yet clear whether Omicron is more easily spread from person to person or if it causes more severe disease compared to infections with other variants, including the Delta variant.