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Health agencies keeping eye on COVID ‘Kraken’ variant 

By Brontë H. Lacsamana, Reporter 

Image via iSO-FORM / CC BY 4.0

NICKNAMED after a sea monster, the coronavirus Omicron subvariant XBB 1.5 — or “Kraken” — is the most infectious so far, but the good news is that it’s not any more severe than previous versions, according to infectious disease experts.  

While it hasn’t been detected in the Philippines, Kraken is being monitored through genomic biosurveillance.  

“XBB 1.5 has around eight major mutations, but it doesn’t carry any mutation associated with potential change in severity,” said Dr. Franco B. Felizarta, a US-based infectious disease expert, at a Jan. 27 webinar organized by the University of the Philippines.  

“In terms of infectiousness, it’s the most infectious today, but in terms of severity, it’s not more severe than the other variants,” he said.  

According to the World Health Organization’s risk assessment for XBB 1.5, there’s not much increase in both severity and death, so the subvariant will likely contribute to an increase in cases but not that much in deaths.   

It also put a disclaimer that growth estimates are only from the United States, which means “there’s a significant chance the Philippines will not get this variant because it had the original XBB that quickly disappeared anyway,” said Dr. Felizarta.  

On Monday, the Philippines posted 1,206 coronavirus cases in the past week, about 36% lower than the 1,891 cases from the previous week, as per a bulletin by the Department of Health. Of the new cases, only one was critical.  

Dr. Cynthia P. Saloma, executive director of the Philippine Genome Center, assured the public that they will continue to monitor the variants emerging in the country.  

“We’re keeping watch for XBB 1.5, which is said to be the most antibody-evasive variant, but data has shown that vaccination as well as prior infection continue to provide protection against hospitalization and severe disease,” she said.  

Dr. Felizarta added that the global population is no longer immunologically naive to the virus due to most people having been vaccinated and/or infected.  

“Globally there’s only a slight increase in daily deaths, much lower than all variants before,” he said. “This is also despite the increasing worldwide mobility, even in countries with minimal masking and social distancing.”  

The hybrid immunity that comes with vaccination and/or infection will help transition COVID-19 from a pandemic to an epidemic. However, the immunocompromised, the elderly, and those with multiple comorbidities are still prone to severe cases and death.   

“They’re the ones that have to be regularly boosted,” said Dr. Felizarta.