MANILA, Oct 17 (Mabuhay) –There is a possibility that the new COVID-19 Omicron subvariant XBB may have already entered the Philippines due to its eased border restrictions for travelers, an infectious diseases expert said Sunday.

Passengers wait for their bus to take them to different places in Metro Manila. (MNS photo)

Dr. Rontgene Solante was asked if the XBB may be the cause why the recorded COVID-19 infections in the country remain to be around 2,000 per day.

“Hindi natin ma-rule out ‘yan kasi unang-una, ang mga tine-test natin ngayon for sequencing, hindi na ganoon karami ang mga samples. Pangalawa, we have an open border. We have daily flights with Singapore,” he said.

“There’s a possibility that this variant can also be present here, but we don’t know. We don’t know yet kasi hindi pa naman nakikita doon sa [it hasn’t been detected yet in] Philippine Genome Center,” he added.

The Department of Health (DOH) on Thursday said that the Philippines has not yet detected the XBB—a recombinant of BJ.1 (BA.2.10.1 sublineage) and BM.1.1.1 (BA.2.75 sublineage).

Citing preliminary studies, the DOH said that the XBB sublineage “shows higher immune evasion ability than BA.5.” It is also under the Omicron subvariants under monitoring by the World Health Organization (WHO), along with BA.5, BA.2.75, BJ.1, BA.4.6, and BA.2.3.20.

On October 11, Singapore’s Ministry of Health said they were experiencing “an increase in local cases driven by XBB.”

They, however, debunked rumors saying that Singapore is “having a rapid and large increase in cases with severe illness and deaths due to the circulating XBB strain.”

In February, the Inter-Agency Task Force for the Management of Emerging Infectious Diseases (IATF) relaxed the travel restrictions, allowing the entry of foreigners in the Philippines for business and tourism purposes under certain conditions.

Solante said that with the possibility of the XBB subvariant entering the Philippines, the public should continue being vigilant and refrain from going out when they experience any COVID-19 symptoms.

He also asked people to follow the minimum public standards such as wearing of face masks indoors.

“Ang importante dito, ay ipaalala natin sa vulnerable population na mas doble ang ingat natin, especially sa mga vulnerable na hindi pa nakakuha ng second booster. Protektahan ang sarili,” he added.

Based on the DOH’s national COVID-19 vaccination dashboard, at least 73.3 million Filipinos are now fully vaccinated against COVID-19, while 20.2 million have received their booster shots.

The DOH on Saturday logged 2,367 new COVID-19 cases, while the country’s active tally has reached 26,404. (MNS)