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Philippines posts 17 more cases of XBB.1.16 coronavirus subvariant


PHILIPPINE health authorities on Thursday reported 17 more cases of the Omicron coronavirus subvariant XBB.1.16, bringing the total to 28.

Of the new cases, seven came from Western Visayas, five from the Davao Region, two from Metro Manila and one each from Bicol, Central Visayas and Mimaropa, the Department of Health (DoH) said in a report. Almost 300 samples were sequenced on May 15 to 19.

Also called Arcturus, the subvariant comes from XBB, a recombinant of two BA.2 descendent lineages. The DoH has said XB.1.16 could evade immunity and is found to be more contagious than other COVID variants.

The World Health Organization (WHO) has labeled Arcturus a variant of interest.

DoH also reported cases of other Omicron subvariants, including 182 XBB, 25 XBB.1.5, 101 XBB.1.9.1, 17 XBB.1.9.2 and 10 XBB.2.3 infections.

There were also 41 BA.2.3.20 cases, one XBC case, and four cases of other Omicron sublineages.

The Health department confirmed the local transmission of XBB.1.16 earlier this month after authorities found the absence of links among cases of the subvariant at the time.

Coronavirus infections in the Philippines have increased recently, with the country posting more than 1,500 new cases on May 24. There were 15,593 active cases. 

The OCTA Research Group has said the recent surge in infections was possibly driven by XBB.1.16, which was first detected in the country in late April.

The Department of Health was only sequencing at least 2% of reported cases, OCTA fellow Fredegusto P. David said last month. “The most predominant strains in the country are versions of XBB.”

In the Thursday report, DoH said 199 or 79.33% of the 279 samples sequenced were classified as XBB. 

On Wednesday night, Mr. David said Metro Manila accounted for 518 of the 1,523 cases posted on May 24. The capital region was followed by Laguna with 94 cases, Cavite with 92, Rizal with 85 and Iloilo with 63.

Bulacan was also on the list with 62, followed by Batangas with 58, Quezon with 42, Negros Occidental with 41, Bataan with 32 and Camarines Sur and Cebu with 26 each.

More than 2.6 million new cases and more than 17,000 deaths were reported globally from April 17 to May 14,  14% and 26% lower than 28 days earlier, the World Health Organization said in a weekly report on May 18.

“The situation is mixed at regional levels, with increases in reported cases seen in the Southeast Asia and Western Pacific regions and increases in deaths in Southeast Asia,” it said.

As of May 14, more than 766 million COVID-19 cases and almost 7 million coronavirus-related deaths have been reported globally, the WHO said.

“Reported COVID-19 cases are underestimates of infection rates, largely due to the reductions in testing globally, and potential delays in reporting,” it said. “Data presented in this report are therefore incomplete and should be interpreted in light of changes in testing and surveillance.”

“Data from previous weeks are continuously being updated to incorporate retrospective changes in reported COVID-19 cases and deaths made by countries,” it added. — Kyle Aristophere T. Atienza

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