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FLiRT variant entered PH in May, but country remains COVID low-risk—DoH

Manila Standard

A subvariant of the so-called “FLiRT” strain of COVID-19 has been detected in the country in May, the Department of Health said.

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

FLiRT variants have two extra mutations on their spike proteins, which experts said may make it easier for the variants to evade people’s immunity, according to Yale Medicine

The KP.2 subvariant is now the dominant variant in the US and is being monitored by the World Health Organization.

The Health department, however, said the country remained at low risk for COVID-19.

There is also still no evidence to show the KP.2 subvariant could cause severe to critical COVID-19 cases, the DOH said.

Recent sequencing by the University of the Philippines-Philippine Genome Center logged two cases of KP.2, two cases of JN.1.18, and 30 cases of JN.1.

“Their detection, along with the slow increase in the number of new cases and the plateau in 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 DOH said.

New COVID-19 cases increased in the past weeks, with a total of 2,235 cases logged from May 21 to 27 – or an average of 319 cases daily, up from the previous week’s 202 daily average.

All regions, however, remained to be at “low risk” for COVID-19.

As to hospital bed utilization, only 14 percent or 174 out of the 1,235 dedicated COVID-19 intensive care unit (ICU) beds were occupied as of May 27.

Severe and critical COVID-19 cases stood at 185 or 10 percent of total hospital admissions.

The Department of Health – Bureau of Quarantine last month went on “heightened alert” for the new FLiRT variants.

Director Ferdinand Salcedo directed all BOQ stations and other concerned agencies to “conduct thorough screening at points of entry for arriving visitors originating from countries where COVID FliRT incidents have been detected.”

While not imposing the mandatory use of face masks, Manila International Airport Authority General Manager Eric Jose Ines instructed terminal housekeeping service providers to disinfect items and locations where passenger contact exposure is high, such as check-in counters, immigration counter tops, and plastic trays used for final screening of passenger luggage and items.

Earlier, infectious diseases expert and Philippine College of Physicians president Dr. Rontgene Solante said the FLiRT variants only pose a “low public health risk” but warned that the absence of newer vaccines make Filipinos – particularly the elderly and the immunocompromised – vulnerable to the virus.

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