The independent OCTA Research Group on Monday said a surge in COVID-19 cases driven by the Omicron variant may occur in January 2022.
OCTA Research fellow Guido David said the reproduction number in South Africa doubled when it detected the Omicron coronavirus variant.
A reproduction number higher than 1 means the virus can be transmitted exponentially.
“In the case numbers in South Africa, when it had a Delta surge, the reproduction number was at 2. With their current surge, which is mostly driven by Omicron, the reproduction number was at, 4 so it doubled,” David said in Filipino.
If the variant is detected in the country, he said, a surge might begin in January.
“If there will be a surge, it might happen in January or February based on history but that's not a guarantee,” David said.
“We have a sufficient level of vaccination in Metro Manila and many other regions. So this could mitigate the spread of Omicron,” he added.
The Philippines is still recording more cases of the highly transmissible Delta variant and has yet to detect a case of the Omicron variant.
Omicron, which is a variant of concern, has 50 mutations with at least 30 mutations in the spike protein. It has been detected in the United States, South Africa, Europe, and some parts of Asia.
The Department of Health (DOH) said evidence suggests that the Omicron variant only causes mild COVID-19 in patients.
During his report to President Rodrigo Duterte on Monday night aired Tuesday morning, Health Secretary Francisco Duque III said he had been in talks with World Health Organization country representative Dr. Rabi Abeyasinghe.
“He said three things; number one, it seems like evidence that Omicron is only mild is increasing, which is good for all of us,” Duque said.
“Number two, there are still no reported deaths on account of the Omicron variant.,” he said.
But Duque also said the variant is probably more transmissible.
As of December 5, the DOH said 42 countries or jurisdictions across the globe have reported 532 cases of the Omicron variant.
Health Undersecretary Maria Rosario Vergeire earlier said the WHO may release its information on the Omicron variant within one to two weeks.
Government authorities have yet to locate eight travelers who arrived in the Philippines from South Africa because of incorrect or incomplete personal information, the DOH said Tuesday.
The Philippines is tracking dozens of travelers who arrived in the country between Nov. 15 and Nov. 29 amid the threat of the COVID-19 Omicron variant.
“The challenge is that the details they provided in their personal information sheet are inaccurate,” Vergeire told ABS-CBN’s TeleRadyo.
South Africa is among the countries that were placed on the Philippines' red list amid the outbreak of the more transmissible Omicron variant.
Vergeire said some travelers provided incomplete contact numbers or addresses. Two others are not answering phone calls, she added.
Vergeire said the DOH is coordinating with different government agencies and localities to find the travelers.
"We already flagged the Bureau of Quarantine and the Department of Transportation regarding this matter so that they can coordinate with the specific agencies of these individuals," she said.
The DOH is urging the travelers to immediately coordinate with their regional health offices for COVID-19 testing.
At a briefing Tuesday, Duque said he is in favor of keeping Metro Manila under Alert Level 2, given the threat of the Omicron variant.
Duque said even if the alert level remains the same, the economy will recover, saying a large portion of the economy has already reopened.
At the same briefing, Duque welcomed the news that the Philippine’s ranking in the latest COVID-19 recovery ranking by Tokyo-based news magazine Nikkei Asia jumped 46 spots from 103rd to 57th, showing a “significant increase in its infection management scores.”
“In fact, in October we were at 121 and they said we were left behind, but we kept progressing and we improved our measures to increase our ranking,” said Duque.
He attributed this to the country’s vaccination trajectory, intensification of public health and social measures, improvement of health systems capacity, early detection, targeted response, and international border control measures.
The Philippines and most of its regions are now classified at minimal risk for COVID-19.