DOH: ‘FLiRT’ variant here, but PH remains ‘low risk’

DOH: ‘FLiRT’ variant here, but PH remains ‘low risk’

By: - Reporter / @dexcabalzaINQ
/ 05:55 AM June 05, 2024


DOH Assistant Secretary Albert Domingo —photo from the Department of Health

MANILA, Philippines — The Department of Health (DOH) on Tuesday confirmed that the so-called “FLiRT” subvariants of COVID-19, which are causing new waves of infections globally, have been detected in the country.

However, the agency assured the public that all regions nationwide remained at “low risk” for COVID-19, and the uptick in cases has remained “slow, mild and manageable.”


Citing the recent sequencing data by the University of the Philippines-Philippine Genome Center (UP-PGC), the DOH said it had detected the first two local cases of KP.2, one of the two FLiRT variants (the other being KP.3) being closely monitored by local and international health authorities.


READ: PH airports, seaports on alert for ‘Flirt’ variant of COVID-19 virus

FLiRT is an informal name coined by researchers to refer to a whole family of new variants of the SARS-CoV-2 virus, but the DOH avoids using it to refer to KP.2 and KP.3—which it would instead call Omicron subvariants—as the term was “informal and casual” and “using it might result in a miscommunication of health risk.”

“It may be likely that there are earlier KP.2 cases, but because of limited sequencing, we have not detected and reported this earlier,” DOH Assistant Secretary Albert Domingo said in a message to reporters.

The DOH also confirmed for the first time two cases of JN.1.18—which is among the four current COVID-19 variants under monitoring (VUMs) by the World Health Organization (WHO), along with JN.1.7 as well as the FLiRT variants KP.2 and KP.3. All these four VUMs were descendants of JN.1, an earlier detected subvariant of Omicron.

The UP-PGC found 30 cases of JN.1 in their sequencing, which were first detected in the country from swab samples of COVID-19 patients in November 2023.

Despite detecting new COVID-19 subvariants in the country, Domingo said “the sequencing findings really do not affect ongoing protocols and clinical management.”


Even before this development, he said the DOH had been operating with the assumption that the flagged Omicron subvariants were already likely here.

“Their detection (along with the slow increase in new cases and the plateau in the number of occupied COVID-19 beds) aligns with the international observation that the new variants under monitoring continue to be clinically mild and manageable,” the agency said.

Rising cases

Still, the reported cases have consistently increased weekly since last month.

According to the DOH, 2,233 COVID-19 cases were logged from May 21 to May 27 (or an average of 319 cases a day), a 58-percent jump from the previous week’s 1,414 cases (202 average daily cases).

From May 7 to May 13, only 877 new COVID-19 cases were reported, with an average of 125 cases reported daily.

The figures recorded in May 2024 were significantly lower compared with the nearly 500 infections a day recorded during the start of the year and with the 1,750-a-day rate in the same period last year when earlier Omicron subvariants (XBB1.5 and XBB.1.16) were the most dominant globally.

Of the new cases reported last week, 22 were considered severe or critical (up from just 16 in the previous week). Twenty deaths were recorded (up from last week’s 12).

According to the DOH, hospital usage among COVID-19 patients, among the key factors in recommending a public health emergency, has remained low and manageable. This was, however, slowly increasing compared with the previous weeks.

As of May 27, only 14 percent (174 out of 1,235) of dedicated COVID-19 ICU (intensive care unit) beds were occupied, up from the previous week’s 9 percent.

Meanwhile, 15 percent (1,601 out of 10,910) of total COVID-19 beds were occupied, up from 12 percent from the prior week.

Based on hospital reports in the DOH Data Collect application, severe and critical COVID-19 cases in various hospitals reached only 185, or 10 percent of total admissions.

Safety precautions

The DOH maintained there was still “no scientific basis” to impose travel restrictions on any country because of an increase in COVID-19 cases, aside from ordering the Bureau of Quarantine to heighten screening of visitors arriving from countries with detected cases of KP.2 and KP.3 subvariants.

Amid the increase in COVID-19 cases, the DOH urged the public to continue the voluntary and proper wearing of face masks.

“Good respiratory hygiene (covering mouth when coughing), washing hands, choosing less crowds, and ensuring good airflow and ventilation are tried and tested ways to prevent ILIs (influenza-like illnesses) and other acute respiratory illnesses, including COVID-19,” it said.

The WHO recommends that senior citizens, adults with comorbidities, healthcare workers, and pregnant women get an updated COVID-19 vaccine six to 12 months after their last shot.

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The DOH, however, has no line item to buy vaccines in the 2024 budget but said during a House appropriations committee last week that the agency could reallocate unused funds and tap on the previous year’s continuing budget. —with a report from Inquirer Research

For more news about the novel coronavirus click here.
What you need to know about Coronavirus.
For more information on COVID-19, call the DOH Hotline: (02) 86517800 local 1149/1150.

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