MANILA – OCTA Research Group warned of another surge in COVID-19 cases if three new Omicron subvariants, BA.4, BA.5 and BA.2.12.1, will be detected in the Philippines at a forum organized by Go Negosyo on April 25.

OCTA Research fellow and biologist Fr. Nicanor Austriaco told the forum the three sub-variants are more transmissible than the BA.2 variant already dominant worldwide and in the country.

“Any of these variants could trigger another surge in our country when it arrives because these three will outcompete the BA.2. These are probably very mild (but) we still do not want to get sick. This is why boosters are important,” Austriaco explained.

“Even though they are mild for those who have immunity, they are not as mild and can be deadly for those who have lost their immunity or who have never had immunity in the first place,” he added.

Guido David, another OCTA Research fellow, warned that the Philippines could experience another surge despite the current “very low” COVID-19 risk level with a 1.4 percent positivity rate, 23 percent healthcare utilization rate, and 0.67 virus reproduction rate, following the ongoing surges in South Africa and India.

“When it will happen, because it’s already starting to happen in South Africa and Delhi, I believe it will happen sometime soon, it will happen sometime in May and June,” David said.

“I tend to think it will not be a surge just like in January. It will be a much lower increase in cases relatively. Then again, we’re still monitoring what’s happening in India,” he added.

332,000 active cases by mid-May

In a report by ABS-CBN News, the Department of Health (DOH) earlier warned that if the public’s compliance with minimum health standards lowers by 30 percent, the country might tally up to 332,000 active cases by mid-May.

In a statement, the DOH cited a report by the sub-Technical Working Group on Data Analytics (sTWG DA) and the Feasibility Analysis of Syndromic Surveillance using Spatio-temporal Epidemiological Modeler for Early Detection of Diseases (FASSSTER) team which showed that compliance to minimum public health standards (MPHS) including social distancing and proper wearing of face masks dropped by 12 percent in Metro Manila and seven percent nationwide in March and April.

“Based on the disease models, a 20 percent decrease in MPHS compliance at the national level could lead to around 34,788 active cases with over 564 of these as severe and 267 as critical in mid-May; while a 30 percent decrease in MPHS compliance might bring the cases up further to as high as 300,000 over the same time period,” the report noted.

Citing a model from the Australian Tuberculosis Modelling Network (AuTuMN) team that estimated that the introduction of a new variant two times more transmissible than Omicron could lead to a peak in ICU admissions in Metro Manila of around 2,418 cases in mid-May, the DOH said the projection “is not cast in stone” and it can be prevented by proper mask-wearing and isolation when experiencing flu-like symptoms.

“Numbers do not lie,” DOH spokesperson Maria Rosario Vergeire said in a statement.

“The good news is, at this point, these are all still projections,” she pointed out. “We can still avert these estimates in favor of better scenarios. We can all do our part to help stop transmission and mutation of the virus,” she added.

In another report by GMA News, OCTA’s David pointed out that their initial projection of 50,000 to 100,000 active cases is lower compared to that of the DOH’s as they are using different models.

Both Austriaco and David also urged the public to get their booster shots.

“It is important at this point, in the next month or so, that we increase the boosting to protect ourselves and our loved ones against these three emerging variants. Any of these variants could trigger another surge in our country when it arrives because these three will outcompete the BA.2,” Austriaco said.

“I agree kasi unang-una, madami tayong vaccines. Kung konti lang ‘yung vaccines natin, siguro i-allocate natin sila optimally. Pero dahil marami tayong vaccines, why not bigyan na rin natin ‘yung other priority groups?” David said when asked if the government should expand the booster shot program to other populations.