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Omicron is PH's 'most evolved' COVID-19 strain, further results needed to prove its dominance–PGC

By SAAB LARIOSA Published Jan 11, 2022 3:45 pm Updated Jan 11, 2022 4:30 pm

Despite the spike in the number of COVID-19 cases in the country since the start of the year, the Philippine Genome Center (PGC) said that "further evidence" is needed to determine whether Omicron is now the dominant strain of the virus in the Philippines.

This came after Health Secretary Francisco Duque III said during the Jan.10 Talk To The People address of President Duterte that the highly transmissible variant discovered in South Africa is now the "dominant" strain in the country.

“[Omicron] na po ang nagdo-dominate na variant whereas before it was the Delta,” Duque said, pertaining to the results of a Jan. 3 whole-genome sequencing run showing that 60.42% of 48 samples were positive for Omicron, while 37.5% were of Delta.

However, during the Jan. 11 Laging Handa briefing, PGC Executive Director Dr. Cynthia Saloma explained that Duque's claim was just "interpreted in context" based on the last sequencing run, although Omicron remains as the "most evolved" strain found in the country.

"Pero based on our data this December marami pa ring Delta. Hindi naman lahat Omicron pero in the last sequencing run... nakita na marami tayong nilabas na Omicron results."

"For further conclusion, we need to get more samples from our local cases so that we can have a better handle on the situation kung ang Omicron na ba ang nagovertake sa Delta."

Saloma added that "further evidence" is needed to determine whether or not the Jan. 3 results reflect that Omicron is the most dominant in the country.

There are a total of 43 confirmed Omicron cases in the country, with 21 local and 22 from international travelers based on data from Dec. 1 to Dec. 29. PGC is currently undergoing more genome sequencing to get a clearer picture of the country's Omicron situation.

Although the center has yet to confirm the January cases of the variant, Saloma explained that the rising cases do reflect other countries' Omicron spread. "It's really this very very fast increase of cases... every day we are just perplexed and shocked with the increasing number of cases and this is characteristic of [other country's] experience of Omicron."

The center is also sequencing between 500 to 700 samples, with more machines coming in from Visayas and Mindanao with a 350 sample capacity to be installed and set up within the week. 

"The process takes up a week or three days pero araw-araw po may nagpapadala samin ng samples, ineextract namin ang RNA and sabay sabay namin rinurun sa machines," Saloma said.

PGC will release more genome sequencing data on samples from the country's COVID-19 cases by the end of the week.

Saloma also addressed Duterte's statement regarding the IHU variant—first discovered in France—which according to the President, could enter the country "whether we like it or not."

“Of course, we cannot actually be certain na hindi siya pupunta sa atin but so far in the indications are that IHU variant seems to be localized in France. In fact, even in France it’s not really expanding so much,” she said.

Saloma advised the country should further implement strict border controls and continue its mass vaccinations against COVID-19 to prevent the higher case rates and the spread of other variants.

On Jan. 10, the Philippines' positive COVID-19 cases reached a new single day-high with 33,169 new cases as the national caseload nears 3 million.