Expert sees slight uptick in PH COVID-19 cases following detection of XBB.1.5, CH.1.1

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Metro Manila (CNN Philippines, February 8) — An infectious diseases expert on Wednesday said a slight increase in COVID-19 cases may happen following the detection of cases of Omicron variants XBB.1.5 and CH.1.1 in the country.

"I would expect there will be a slight uptick especially for those individuals whose vaccines are not updated, particularly those who have not yet received the booster doses or those qualified to receive the second booster," Dr. Rontgene Solante told CNN Philippines' The Source.

On Tuesday, the Department of Health said it recorded the first cases of the XBB.1.5 and CH.1.1. Out of the 1,078 samples sequenced from Jan. 30 to Feb. 3, there is one case of XBB.1.5 and three cases of CH.1.1. 

XBB.1.5 is a sublineage of XBB Omicron variant while CH.1.1 is a sublineage of BA.2.75 Omicron variant.

Based on studies, Solante said both are highly transmissible and resistant to antibodies from vaccination or previous infection.

Specifically, XBB.1.5. is considered "most highly transmissible," potentially increasing the number of infections where it has been detected especially in areas with low immunization level.

"It is also expected that it can overtake some of the previous Omicron subvariants like BA.2 and BA.5," Solante said. "It is important for us to monitor this."

He said while mild symptoms are expected among the general population, the vulnerable population should take extra precaution from possible severe infection due to the Omicron variants.

Solante urged the public, especially the elderly, and people with comorbidities, to still wear their face mask as a layer of protection against the virus.

The vulnerable should also be prioritized in the rollout of bivalent vaccines because it can still provide 40% to 60% protection.

So far, the Philippine government is expecting to receive almost 1.4 million doses of bivalent vaccines. Around a million of which will come from the COVAX facility and around 300,000 from another nation. 

It is also negotiating with manufacturers for the procurement of more supply.