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Doc Willie Ong Warns Of New Covid-19 Variant; Says Cases May Go Up After May 9 Elections

PAGADIAN CITY, Zamboanga del Sur – Aksyon Demokratiko vice-presidential candidate Dr. Willie Ong on Wednesday said there is a 35 percent chance of Covid-19 cases increasing after the May 9 polls due to the discovery of a new mutant variant called XE believed to be even more transmissible compared to the other strains of the virus.

Ong made the remark as international health officials are already turning their attention to the new mutant variant just days after the BA.2 strain of coronavirus achieved world dominance.

“Pero sa ngayon mukhang hindi naman kakalat pero as usual sinasabi ko sana naghanda tayo sa ospital, sa gamot, sa health workers, para just in case may dumating. Ang prediction ko nga after elections may 35 percent chance na tumaas,” Ong told reporters here shortly before the Team Isko motorcade.

“Just in case dumating ready tayo at hindi tayo magla-lockdown agad-agad na lang. Pero sa ngayon mababa naman, less than 2 percent ang positivity rate ibig sabihin maliit ang tsansa na makahawa sa panahon na ‘to,” Ong said.

The Covid-19’s XE variant is a combination of the first strain of omicron to spread across the globe, BA.1, and the so-called “stealth omicron,” the sub-variant BA.2, that is now dominant.

The highly transmissible XE strain was first detected in the United Kingdom on January 19, according to World Health Organization (WHO) document, and there have been more than 600 documented cases in the UK since.

Preliminary findings suggest that XE may be about 10% more transmissible than BA.2, which is considered 50-60% more transmissible than its omicron predecessor. How deadly XE turns out to be is still a question mark when it comes to XE as health experts continue to monitor the subvariant’s spread.

Ong said he was no longer surprised about the presence of the XE strain which is why there is a reason for the government, particularly the health department, and the people to remain vigilant and prevent another outbreak from happening similar to when the Omicron variant struck late last year and January of this year.

“Lagi nating binabantayan itong mga pandemic na darating. Actually, matagal ko ng alam itong XE Omicron. Ito yung pangatlong klase, nagsama yung una at yung pangalawa. Ang sabi nila itong XE Omicron 43 times mas mabilis makahawa kaysa sa original at 10 times mas mabilis makahawa kumpara doon sa pangalawa, yun ang tumama sa atin yung BA.2. Pero sa ngayon kaunti pa lang naman yung kaso parang hindi pa naman ganun kabilis ang pagkalat kaya laging kong nagbabalita sa mga tao oras na feeling ko tataas ito at hindi,” explained Ong.

The 58-year-old cardiologist and internist said there is a need for authorities to tightly guard our borders and enforce strict health protocols to prevent the entry of the XE variant into the country.

“Dapat naman talaga maghigpit, lagi tayong mahigpit sa borders natin e kasi pag pumasok at pag tumaas na yung kaso kulang na naman yung ospital natin, kulang yung gamit natin, dun na naman magkukumahog yung mga kababayan natin, doon pa lang magpapa-booster, doon pa lang magpapabakuna, mahirap na nga yun. Kung pandemic na doon ka magpapabakuna hindi na nga ganoon ka effective yung pagbabakuna kasi baka sabay na tinamaan ka e tapos meron pang-XE variant,’ Ong pointed out.

Ong previously stated in interviews that having an infectious disease hospital could have helped save the lives of many Filipinos, particularly at the height of the Covid-19 pandemic.

Ong said that aside from an infectious disease hospital, building a Cancer Center of the Philippines (CCP), modern hospitals for every region and improved access to healthcare services will help prevent deaths and will give the country a fighting chance in winning the war against Covid-19.

Aside from these, Ong said the national government should buy the newly discovered Covid-19 medicines that can reduce hospitalization and deaths by 88 percent just like what the City of Manila is doing under the leadership of Mayor Isko Moreno Domagoso.

Ong previously expressed alarm over the 800,000 recorded deaths in 2021 even as he said that reducing the total number of deaths per year should be a top government priority. More than 75,000 people died due to Covid-19 in 2021, making it the second leading cause of death among Filipinos.

Ong maintained that the national government should invest in healthcare, health professionals, and free medicines to address the top killer diseases in the country.

The vice-presidential bet added that the 10-storey fully equipped Bagong Ospital ng Maynila Medical Center built by the Manila LGU in two years can be a model that can be replicated into 17 regional hospitals. Ong also noted that the government should also improve the welfare of healthcare workers in the country.

To improve the country’s health care system, Aksyon Demokratiko standard bearer Isko Moreno Domagoso said his administration will build more public hospitals and health care centers throughout the country, with a target of providing 107,000 additional hospital beds in his first 1,000 days in office.

The 47-year-old presidential candidate also plans to achieve a ratio of one doctor per 1,000 Filipinos equitably distributed across the country by providing scholarships to 10,000 medical students per year. He also promised to increase the salary of nurses and other healthcare workers.

But foremost will be the rollout of a clear pandemic response roadmap that aims to fully protect all Filipinos against Covid-19 by Dec. 31, 2022, to open up the economy and make the country prepared for future pandemics. #