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Travelers coming from countries with 'FLiRT' COVID-19 variant to undergo screening

By Melanie Uson Published May 27, 2024 9:56 pm

The Bureau of Quarantine (BOQ) will implement strict health screening at all entry points in the Philippines for travelers coming from countries that have recorded cases of the FLiRT variant of COVID-19. 

Health Secretary Ted Herbosa issued a memorandum on May 24 for BOQ to be on heightened alert for the new COVID-19 variant. 

“All stations have been directed to conduct thorough screening at points of entry for arriving visitors originating from countries where COVID FLiRT incidents have been detected,” the BOQ memorandum read. 

It also reminded travelers to complete the health questionnaire available on the e-Travel application. 

“The general public should take basic health measures such as frequent hand washing, coughing etiquette, avoiding crowded situations, and getting in contact with people with flu-like symptoms,” it added.  

They also advised those who are experiencing signs and symptoms of COVID-19 to go on home isolation.

What is the FLiRT COVID-19 variant? 

According to the World Health Organization, this variant is designated under four JN.1 sublineages — JN.1.7, JN.1.18, KP.2, and KP.3. The term “FLiRT" is an acronym for the amino acid of COVID-19 virus’ spike protein mutations such as phenylalanine (F) to leucine (L), and from arginine (R) to threonine (T). 

"Viruses like COVID mutate frequently, and when they mutate to evade recognition by antibodies, this often weakens their ability to bind to the cells they want to infect," he said, professor of Molecular Microbiology and Immunology Andy Pekosz told Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health.

"We then see mutations appear that improve that binding ability. This is a cycle we have seen many times with COVID."  

He added that there are no new or different recorded symptoms under this variant, but noted that symptoms will show five or more days after exposure to the virus. An exposed person is contagious one or two days before experiencing symptoms and a few days after it subsides. 

How to protect yourself 

While the vaccines during the height of the pandemic in 2020 still work as an immunity, the Department of Health (DOH) previously said that there is a need for a new set of vaccines for the FLiRT variant. 

“Ang importante dyan na is iyong maipasok natin sa merkado. So dapat ating parang hikayatin iyong ating mga manufacturers ng mga bagong COVID vaccine. If you ask us, mas prefered na namin iyong bago kasi iyong luma... parang hindi na kasi updated iyong strains noon. Doon na tayo sa mga bagong variants," said DOH Assistant Secretary Albert Domingo.  

In December 2023, the agency shared that there will be no budget allocated for new COVID-19 vaccines in 2024.

Amid the threat of the FLiRT variant, the DOH advised the public to observe good respiratory hygiene, frequent handwashing, and avoid crowded areas as added protection against the virus. 

They also previously said that there is no evidence to show yet that the said variant could severe evidence they cause severe to critical cases of the virus.

The health agency said on May 21 that the country has seen a small uptick in cases from May 7 to 13 but that it remains at low risk for COVID-19.