A health official on Monday said there is still no evidence showing that the newly identified coronavirus variant Omicron is more likely to infect the younger population or cause severe symptoms.
Department of Health Epidemiology Bureau officer-in-charge Director Alethea de Guzman said further studies are needed to better understand Omicron’s transmissibility, infectivity and effect on vaccine efficacy.
“Based on studies, we cannot see yet if the variant affects a certain age group or if it causes severe symptoms or if it causes higher chances of death,” de Guzman said in an online briefing in Filipino.
Early news reports said the Omicron variant infected individuals below 40 years old and its symptoms are mild — fatigue, headaches, and slight fever — compared to that of the Delta variant.
The Omicron variant was first detected on Nov. 21 in Botswana, Hong Kong, and South Africa. It was designated as a variant under monitoring on Nov. 24 and was classified as a variant of concern on Nov. 26.
“With 50 mutations overall, 30 of which are in the spike region, it is possible that the Omicron variant may cause increased transmissibility and immune invasion,” de Guzman said.
According to the World Health Organization (WHO), researchers in South Africa and around the world are conducting studies to better understand many aspects of Omicron.
Regarding transmissibility, the WHO said it was not yet clear whether it is more transmissible compared to other variants, including Delta.
“The number of people testing positive has risen in areas of South Africa affected by this variant, but epidemiologic studies are underway to understand if it is because of Omicron or other factors,” it said in an update posted on its website on Nov. 28.
It is also not yet clear whether infection with Omicron causes more severe disease compared to infections with other variants, including Delta.
“Preliminary data suggests that there are increasing rates of hospitalization in South Africa, but this may be due to increasing overall numbers of people becoming infected, rather than a result of specific infection with Omicron,” it said.
“There is currently no information to suggest that symptoms associated with Omicron are different from those from other variants. Initially reported infections were among university students — younger individuals who tend to have more mild disease — but understanding the level of severity of the Omicron variant will take days to several weeks,” it added.
Omicron is fast spreading across Europe, prompting local authorities and other countries to contain its spread by shutting borders anew.
About 14 countries have reported incidence of the Omicron variant — South Africa, 109; Botswana, 19; Netherlands, 13; the United Kingdom, 3; Germany, 3; Israel, 2; Canada, 2; Hong Kong, 2; Australia, 2; Denmark, 2; Austria, 1; Italy, 1; Belgium, 1; and the Czech Republic,1.
Travel restrictions have been imposed on travelers from South Africa, Botswana, Zimbabwe, Namibia, Lesotho, Eswatini, Mozambique, Malawi and Seychelles.
No cases of the Omicron variant have been detected in the country but it is just a matter of time, de Guzman said.