Here's everything we know so far about Omicron XE COVID-19 variant
The Omicron surge is on its decline, with the Philippines recording less than a thousand COVID-19 cases for over a month, another strain has piqued public interest.
Following reports of the Omicron XE variant recorded in Bangkok, Thailand on April 2, the Department of Health (DOH) said it is working closely with the World Health Organization (WHO) regarding the new variant.
"Observation and monitoring are still ongoing on whether the variant would be categorized as a sub-variant of Omicron or a new variant to be named by WHO should it display any significant change in characteristics," it said on April 4.
The agency is also working closely with the Philippine Genome Center to monitor case trends and conduct genomic surveillance activities.
The Omicron XE is a recombinant of the BA.1 and BA.2 subvariants, which means it's a hybrid containing some characteristics of the two strains. It was first identified in the United Kingdom on January 19. By March 22, the country logged 637 cases of the strain, making up less than 1% of the UK's total COVID-19 cases.
“XE has shown a variable growth rate and we cannot yet confirm whether it has a true growth advantage,” UK Health Security Agency Chief Medical Adviser Susan Hopkins said.
Early indicators suggest the XE is 10% more transmissible than "Stealth" Omicron or BA.2, which is the dominant strain in the Philippines, but WHO said more research is needed.
So far, there's no evidence yet about whether the new strain can affect vaccine efficacy or cause more severe diseases, but experts said it is not yet a variant of concern. WHO is also still studying whether the strain will remain a subvariant of Omicron or if it will be a different variant in itself.
"XE belongs to the Omicron variant until significant differences in transmissions and disease characteristics, including severity, may be reported," WHO said.
As for symptoms, most of the recorded cases reported ones similar to the original Omicron strain such as runny noses, sneezing, and sore throat.
Aside from the UK, the variant has been detected in Thailand. The country's Public Health Commission said the patient has already recovered from Omicron XE after developing mild symptoms.
Other recombinant strains have been detected but a vast majority died off quickly.
Variants XD and XF, a combination of Delta and Omicron BA.1, have been detected in the UK and France. There was no evidence of wide transmission of both strains, unlike the Omicron XE.