THE first known case of COVID-19 Omicron BA.2.12 variant in the country has been detected in Baguio City, but has yet to spread, the Department of Health (DOH) announced on Wednesday.

The lone case of BA.2.12 is a 52-year old woman from Finland who traveled to Baguio to lecture on digital loom weaving, but according to the DOH, her hosts while in Baguio have not been infected. She left the country to return to Finland on April 21, but the sequencing process that identified the BA.2.12 subvariant was concluded only recently.

The woman in question sought medical attention for a different concern and was subsequently tested and found to be positive for COVID-19. Subsequent sequencing of her sample specimen confirmed that her infection was from the COVID-19 subvariant.

She did not undergo isolation upon entry into the country as she was fully vaccinated and asymptomatic.

Because of this belated development, the Inter-Agency Task Force (IATF) on Thursday issued the Alert Level classification effective May 1, 2022 until May 15, 2022, bringing Baguio City including the municipality of Tublay in Benguet under Alert Level 1. 

Others under Alert Level 1 are the provinces of Abra, Apayao, Kalinga, Mountain Province. 

The provinces of Benguet and Ifugao, however,  are under Alert Level 2 status. 

Manila’s DOH office said that two out of the nine contacts the patient had in Manila were tested and came up negative, but the office has not specified why the other contacts were not tested.

She had nine close contacts in Quezon City, five in Benguet, and 30 while aboard the commercial flight going to Manila, DOH Undersecretary Maria Rosario Vergeire said.

“As to the close contacts, she had nine close contacts in Quezon City, she also had five close contacts in Benguet and all of them are being closely monitored. Some of them were tested already which turned out to be negative,” Vergeire added.

“We got the manifesto already from the airplane. We had our contact tracing already. She had a total of 30 close contacts, near contacts in the airplane,” she said. 

Most of the close contacts of the patient were fully vaccinated and some of them have already tested negative for COVID-19.

“All of them are being closely monitored and nobody is experiencing symptoms as of this time,” Vergeire said.

However, the World Health Organization (WHO) has yet to declare BA.2.12 a variant of concern.

According to the DOH, the Omicron variants, including BA.2.12 are associated with higher transmissivity but are currently not known to cause more severe infections and disease.

The DOH said that 53 percent of 132 samples in the latest genome sequencing run were of the Omicron variant, making it the most common variant currently.

“Looking at the timeline, it appears that it did not impact our cases.  She was diagnosed last April 11 and had prior engagements here so we expected that after six days up to the 14th day, we should have seen an increase in cases but as it is, we did not have any.  So I think we were able to manage and control the situation,” Mayor Benjie Magalong said.

Magalong, however, warned that an increase is still possible considering the relaxed entry rules which allow tourists even from areas with case increases to travel, the increased public engagements due to the forthcoming elections where lapses in health protocols are observed, and the continuing threat of the variants including the BA 2.12 and the recombinant variant Omicron XE.

“It is just a matter of time before we get Omicron XE.  We expect our cases to gradually increase because looking at the dynamics of interaction, we can expect higher transmission rate, especially after the elections,” the mayor said.

“As of now there is no cause for alarm but let’s be conscious of our safety.  Wear masks, avoid handshake, observe the usual handwashing, disinfection and ventilation rules and do elbow bumps instead. More importantly, get your booster shots,” the mayor said.    

The mayor however assured that the city is prepared for a surge with its contingency plan and systems that tided the city over the Delta and Omicron variant surges still intact.

City Health Service Officer Dr. Rowena Galpo said the BA.2.12 patient with known comorbidity of hypertension arrived in the country on April 2 and in Baguio on April 7.

She started exhibiting symptoms on April 10 and got her positive test result on April 11.

On April 12, she was admitted to a hospital with an initial diagnosis of Hypertension Stage II COVID infection and was discharged on April 18.

On April 20, 2022, the patient traveled back to Finland.

Her infection was confirmed as Omicron variant sublineage BA.2.12 in the April 23 report of the Philippine Genome Center.

Omicron BA.2.12 is the subvariant triggering case surges in the US and South Korea.

Its presentation is not much different from the Omicron BA.2 that caused the surge in the Philippines early this year.

According to experts, it is 20 percent more transmissible than BA.2 but is not considered a major threat. – with reports from Aileen Refuerzo.