New FLiRT variant found in Philippines, DOH reassures public of low COVID-19 risk

The Department of Health (DOH) in the Philippines confirmed the detection of flagged Omicron subvariants, including KP.2, in the country. Despite this, the increase in cases remains slow, and the country faces low COVID-19 risk.

Recent sequencing by the University of the Philippines-Philippine Genome Center identified two cases of KP.2, 2 cases of JN.1.18, and 30 cases of JN.1.

The DOH emphasized that the new variants under monitoring continue to be clinically mild and manageable, aligning with international observations. Currently, there are four COVID-19 variants under monitoring: JN.1.7, JN.1.18, KP.2, and KP.3.

The so-called “FLiRT” variants, including KP.2 and KP.3, are contributing to a rising wave of COVID-19 cases globally. However, there is no evidence suggesting that KP.2 and KP.3 cause severe or critical COVID-19.

Health spokesperson Albert Domingo mentioned that the earliest collection date for KP.2 was May 2024, indicating that there could be earlier cases that have not been detected due to limited sequencing.

In terms of hospital occupancy, the Philippines reported an average of 319 COVID-19 cases daily for the week of May 21 to 27. Hospital occupancy for COVID-19 patients remained low, with only 14% of ICU beds and 15% of non-ICU beds dedicated to COVID-19 patients being occupied.

The DOH recorded 20 deaths due to COVID-19, with five occurring in the recent two weeks. The department urged the public to continue practicing preventive measures such as proper mask-wearing, frequent handwashing, avoiding crowded spaces, and ensuring good ventilation.

Despite the detection of new variants, the DOH does not see a need for travel restrictions at this time as it may impede the flow of essential health goods and services.

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