More contagious, evasive ‘Centaurus’ in PH, says DOH

By: Kathleen de Villa – Reporter / @Inq_ResearchersPhilippine Daily Inquirer / 05:50 AM August 03, 2022

Department of Health building with superimpose logo. STORY: More contagious, evasive ‘Centaurus’ in PH, says DOH

MANILA, Philippines — Another emerging Omicron subvariant, given the moniker “Centaurus” in social and mainstream media, has found its way into the country with two individuals in Central Visayas testing positive for the virus, the Department of Health (DOH) announced on Tuesday.ADVERTISEMENT

Officially named BA.2.75 by the World Health Organization (WHO), it is believed to be more contagious and capable of dodging immune defenses provided by COVID-19 vaccines.

Officer in charge Maria Rosario Vergeire of the Department of Health (DOH) said in a media forum that the infected individuals in the Visayas were the first two confirmed cases of BA.2.75, according to the results of the genome sequencing run from July 30 to Aug. 1.

One of them was unvaccinated, while the other got only one shot of a COVID-19 jab, the health undersecretary said.

Although both have already recovered, Vergeire said their exposure and travel histories were still being verified.

“Based on studies, this is more transmissible and more immune evasive than BA.5. But there is no evidence saying that it can cause more severe infections,” Vergeire told reporters.

Social media roots

First detected in India in July, BA.2.75 is a new sublineage of the Omicron strain, which has been blamed for multiple rounds of COVID-19 surges globally this year. The WHO has classified BA.2.75 as “Omicron subvariants under monitoring,” along with BA.5, BA.4, and BA.2.12.1.

The nickname Centaurus, a constellation in astronomy and a creature in Greek mythology that is half horse and half human, was traced to a certain Twitter user named Xabier Ostale, who tweets about COVID-19—and lately about monkeypox—and how to stay safe. In a post last month, Ostale said he was fed up with the Greek alphabet system used by the WHO, and that he would name BA.2.75 after the galaxy Centaurus. This caught on in social media and traditional media such as Forbes and Fortune magazines and The Guardian newspaper started using the term in reporting on the BA.2.75 subvariant.

It has since been detected in more than a dozen other countries, including the United States, the United Kingdom, Australia, Germany, and Canada.

Both the WHO and the European Center for Disease Prevention and Control (ECDC) have designated it a “variant under monitoring,” indicating that it could be more transmissible, although the evidence that it could lead to more severe disease is reportedly currently weak.ADVERTISEMENT

The WHO continues to refer to it as an Omicron sublineage until it starts to behave differently from other Omicron subvariants and exhibits a strong public health impact, during which it would be given a separate Greek name.

More Omicron cases

Meanwhile, the DOH said 1,015 more cases of BA.5, another highly transmissible Omicron subvariant, were reported in the same genome sequencing data where the Centaurus was detected. Of the number, 883 had already recovered.

More than half, or 527 of them, were fully vaccinated, 12 have not completed their primary series, and 16 were yet to get jabbed. The vaccination status of the rest was still being verified.

Western Visayas (305), Metro Manila (209), and Calabarzon (122) were the top regions where the BA.5 infections were found, the DOH said.

There were also 26 new cases of BA.4, of whom 21 had already recovered; while 18 additional cases of BA.2.12.1 were detected, 13 of whom had been cleared.

Despite the continued upswing in COVID-19 infections, the country remained at low risk for transmission, Vergeire said.

However, Metro Manila is at moderate risk for posting an average daily attack rate (Adar) of 8.16 cases per 100,000 individuals.

On Monday, the DOH reported that the national weekly positivity rate for COVID-19 infection jumped to 16.7 percent — or more than triple the WHO’s ideal threshold of 5 percent.

The country, however, remained at a low-risk classification despite the increase in positivity rate as the average daily Adar remained at a low 2.9 cases per 100,000 population.

Low risk status

Vergeire said that the continuous increase in cases did not translate to an increase in COVID-19 admissions as the number of severe and critical cases continued to be below 1,000, with the majority of hospital admissions being a combination of mild and asymptomatic cases. 

The health-care utilization rate was also at low risk nationwide.

So far, 71.7 million Filipinos have been vaccinated against COVID-19, including 9.7 million adolescents, 4.1 million children, and 6.8 million senior citizens. However, less than a third of those eligible for boosters have received their shots.

The government has warned that the number of reported COVID-19 infections could reach as high as 19,306 a day by Aug. 31, if vaccination and booster rates, as well as compliance with minimum public health standards, would not improve.

The DOH said that if both vaccination and booster shot numbers would improve, the daily cases might hover between 6,000 and 8,000 cases a day.

Health experts have been pushing for a ramped-up vaccination drive especially with the impending return of in-person classes starting this month.

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