MANILA, Philippines — With an average of 213 new cases reported daily in the past week, the Philippines remains at low risk for COVID-19. The county’s first recorded case of the Omicron subvariant BA.2.12, which is one of the subvariants fueling a new wave of infections in the United States, was also reported by the Department of Health.
This week, May 1, 2022, here’s what we’re watching:
Climate change and viral spillovers
A warming world is giving viruses an unprecedented opportunity for spilling over among different animal species, increasing the risk that one could jump into humans and cause a new pandemic, a new study published in Nature found.
- These were among the results of a study conducted by Georgetown University global-change scientist Colin Carlson and his colleague Greg Albery. They constructed a simulation that forecasts the chance of viral spillovers if the ranges of 3,100 mammal species cross in the past, present, and future.
- Animals are predicted to migrate to more pleasant areas as temperatures increase, which might force some species to interact for the first time, allowing viruses to infect new hosts.
- Researchers predicted approximately 4,000 cases of viruses moving from one species to another in the study, which covered 3,139 species.
“The researchers couldn’t predict which viruses would spread across which species.”According to the New York Times, “what matters is the sheer enormity of what’s to come.”
Bats in Southeast Asia are especially vulnerable to these diseases. Currently, the region’s various bat species seldom interact with one another, but as the world warms, bats will migrate to more suitable habitats and engage with different species.
“Bats account for the majority of novel viral sharing, and are likely to share viruses along evolutionary pathways that will facilitate future emergence in humans,” the study said.
Take this for instance, as the Times reported: “The coronavirus that caused SARS in 2002 originated in Chinese horseshoe bats and then jumped to another species — possibly raccoon dogs sold in Chinese animal markets — before infecting people.”
Scientists found that this ecological transition is already underway and that keeping rising temperatures below 2 °C within the century “will not reduce future viral sharing,” spurring experts to argue that the world is transitioning from the “Anthropocene” era, in which humans dominated the Earth’s environment, to the “Pandemicene,” in which diseases have a greater impact on humanity.
“The chance to halt climate change from enhancing viral transmission was 15 years ago,” Carlson told the Atlantic. There is no going backward in a world that is 1.2 degrees warmer [than pre-industrial levels]. As a result, we must prepare for further pandemics.”
The study’s findings are important for the entire world, and they emphasize the need for pandemic preparedness in the Philippines, which is located in a spillover-prone zone.
That involves strengthening public health and health-care systems, strengthening social safety nets, and properly addressing long-ignored vulnerabilities highlighted by the COVID-19 pandemic.
Looking at South Africa
Scientists and health authorities in South Africa believe the country may be entering its fifth wave sooner than predicted, citing an upsurge in infections over the previous 14 days, with the BA.4 and BA.5 Omicron subvariants driving the increase.
- While hospitalizations are increasing, South Africa’s health minister, Joe Phaala, previously stated that there has been no significant shift in intensive care unit admissions or deaths.
- Experts believe that diminishing immunity from past waves is one reason leading to the cases’ reappearance faster than predicted.
- Reinfection is likely in roughly 90 days or three months, according to current statistics. More information may be seen in this episode of Rappler’s COVID-19 Weekly Watch.
- The World Health Organization (WHO) is already monitoring the two subvariants owing to “additional mutations that need to be further researched to understand their influence on immunological escape potential.”
- There has been no sign of a change in the epidemiology or severity of BA.4 and BA.5, however, this might change as more data is obtained.
- The Philippine Department of Health has urged the public to avail themselves of boosters in light of the threat posed by new subvariants. Booster uptake has been slow, with just over 14 million Filipinos boosted. ”The DOH thus implores the public to get boosted ASAP, as immunity is proven to wane over time,” it said.
Decline in testing
The WHO has urged nations to maintain adequate monitoring of the virus to guarantee public safety and to ensure that the WHO has the data it needs to give recommendations and track the virus. COVID-19 is still a pandemic, and governments must maintain monitoring systems to track epidemiological patterns and new strains.
- Global testing has fallen by some 70% to 90% in the past four months, the WHO said.
- “Without additional data, the extent to which the decline in testing is a function of slowing transmission, changes in national policies or capacities, or other factors is unclear,” Johns Hopkins’ Center for Health Security said.
- Unlike the start of the pandemic, the world has an “unprecedented ability” to test for COVID-19 now, yet testing has become the “first casualty” of a global decision to move on from the pandemic, the WHO said.
- “Rather than learn again the lesson that shutting down testing programs prematurely is always a mistake, it always costs more money in the end, it always costs more lives, we make that same mistake that we’ve made so many times in the course of the pandemic and we have a strategy that’s based on hope rather than a strategy based on data,” said Dr. Bill Rodriguez, who leads FIND, the global alliance for diagnostics.
- WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus added: “This virus won’t go away just because countries stop looking for it. It’s still spreading, it’s still changing, and it’s still killing. The threat of a dangerous new variant remains very real.”