THE Department of Health (DOH) confirmed on Tuesday, May 17, 2022, the local transmission of the Omicron subvariant BA.2.12.1.

In a press conference held in Manila, DOH Usec. Maria Rosario Vergeire said three new BA.2.12.1 cases were detected in Western Visayas, of which one patient is a returning overseas Filipino (ROF) from the United States, while two are local cases.

Two of them, the ROF and one local case, have been fully vaccinated, while the vaccination status of the other one is still being verified.

The country now has a total of 17 BA.2.12.1 cases, of which 16 are local cases.

Vergeire said 14 of the cases, which were reported last week, had already been tagged as recovered after undergoing home isolation, while the three other cases were still being verified.

Vergeire said the local transmission was detected in Western Visayas with two cases, National Capital Region with two cases, and Puerto Princesa City with 12 cases that include 11 foreigners.

She clarified, however, that there is still no community transmission of the subvariant in the country.

“Local transmission is defined categorically; it establishes if there is no more linkage with an imported case. That means the cases we’ve detected here now don’t have any relation at all to incoming travelers or international cases,” she said in a mix of English and Tagalog.

“When we say local transmission, it’s confined in that area. It’s not widespread compared to community transmission, which is huge clusters of infection. This is when there are already many clusters of infection, and you can no longer see the link of each case to each other,” she added.

More transmissible

In a Laging Handa public briefing on Monday, May 16, infectious disease specialist Dr. Edsel Salvaña of the DOH-Technical Advisory Group said based on initial findings, the BA.2.12.1 subvariant is 23 to 27 percent more transmissible than the Omicron variant, the most transmissible variant of the coronavirus disease (Covid-19).

But he said there is no indication yet that the BA.2.12.1 causes more severe infection than the Omicron variant.

Vergeire said local government units are advised to intensify the government strategy to further prevent the spread of the BA.2.12.1 subvariant, especially the implementation of the minimum health protocols, as well as the strengthening of their vaccination drive.

She also urged those experiencing symptoms of Covid-19 to immediately isolate even while awaiting the result of their tests.

Vergeire said the Covid-19 testing in the country will remain risk-based, which means only those manifesting symptoms will be advised to undergo RT-PCR testing.

She said the BA.2.12.1 did not present any extraordinary symptoms from the original Covid-19 infection, noting that variants can only be detected through genome sequencing.

The BA.2.12.1, which was first detected in the United States in December 2021, is said to be responsible for the spike in Covid-19 cases and hospitalization in New York in early April.

Based on the recent estimate of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, from May 1 to 7, 42.6 percent of the cases in the US were of the BA.2.12.1 subvariant.

Preliminary studies showed that the subvariant is most likely to exhibit immune evasion, although there is no evidence yet that shows it causes more severe infection.

Negros cases

Data from the DOH Western Visayas showed no significant increase in the number of Covid-19 cases in Bacolod City and Negros Occidental province.

As of Monday, May 16, Bacolod had 54 active cases, while Negros Occidental had 110.

The total confirmed cases as of Monday were 27,982 for Bacolod and 40,379 for Negros Occidental.

Only seven cases were reported in Bacolod in the last five days, and another seven in Negros Occidental. (SunStar Philippines, SunStar Bacolod)