PHL AT ‘CRITICAL RISK’ FOR COVID-19 AGAIN; Cases soar past 3 million; Senators, Cabinet men, other leaders catch virus

By ALFRED GABOT, Editor in Chief

MANILA — With infections rising to record high again, hitting several Cabinet members, the chiefs of the Armed Forces and Philippine National Police, several senators and leaders and celebrities, Health Secretary Francisco T. Duque III declared that the country is now deemed at “critical risk” for COVID-19.

This as the total COVID-19 cases in the country hit a milestone when it surpassed the three-million mark at 3,058,634 this week after the country broke its record for the biggest single-day increase for the third straight day on Monday, January 10, with 33,169 new infections. A day before, the cases logged were 28,707. On Wednesday, January 12, 32,246 new cases were recorded.

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Meanwhile, the death toll rose to 52,654 after 144, 145 and 219 more patients succumbed to COVID-19 as recorded on January 12, January 10 and January 9.

As the Omicron variant appeared to be dominant now, several Cabinet members,  some senators and congressmen like Rep. Alfred Vargas and local executives and many celebrities like Olympics gold medalist Hidilyn Diaz, beauty queen Pia Wurtzbach, couple Aga and Arlene Muhlach, and the chiefs of the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) and the Philippine National Police (PNP) were among the latest to be reported found positive for the virus.

The Cabinet members who got exposed to staff tested positive for the virus and had to go in isolation were Health Secretary Francisco Duque, Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana, Interior and Local Government Secretary Eduardo Ano,  and Secretary Carlito Galvez Jr.

Deputy Speaker and Manila 6th District Rep. Bienvenido Benny Abante earier  announced that he was again infected.

In another development, the Philippines is stepping up vaccination as it has administered 118,944,887 doses of coronavirus disease (Covid-19) vaccines nationwide, with 55,195,486 Filipinos now fully vaccinated against the dreaded infection.

The latest data from the National Covid-19 vaccination dashboard also indicated 4,915,091 of the fully vaccinated have received booster or additional doses.

Meanwhile, for the first two weeks of January, 68 people were prevented from taking their flights at the Ninoy Aquino International Airport (NAIA) for presenting a reverse transcription-polymerase chain reaction (RT-PCR) test indicating they are positive for Covid-19.

General Manager Ed Monreal of the Manila International Airport Authority (MIAA)  said most of the 68 claimed they did not check the RT-PCR result before going to the airport.

With the soaring cases, authorities have adopted several measures such as raising many parts of the country under the restrictive Alert Level 3, restricting movements of the unvaccinated and stepping up vaccination in all areas, including administering boosters and vaccines to children.

Health officials warned that they are ready for the more strict Alert Level 4 if the cases continue to rise.

 Metro Manila, also called the National Capital Region (NCR), Region IV-A or Calabarzon (Cavite, Laguna, Batangas, Rizal and Quezon provinces) and Central Luzon were the top three in most number of cases. On January 10 alone, Metro Manila had 18,535 cases; Calabarzon with 7,443; and Central Luzon with 3,403, making the three regions at “critical risk” for the virus.

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This prompted the Metro Manila mayors to propose that the metropolis stay under Alert Level 3, instead of shifting to the stricter Alert Level 4, even with the rapid increase in COVID-19 infections, MMDA chairman Benhur Abalos, Jr. said.

Like the mayors, Presidential Adviser for Entrepreneurship Joey Concepcion also opposed upgrading Metro Manila to the stricter Alert Level 4.

“There’s really no need to even move to Alert Level 4 because by itself, mobility has slowed down tremendously,” Concepcion said.

 Metro Manila or NCR is currently under Alert Level 3 until Jan. 15.

In the same Malacanang briefing, Duque declared that the highly infectious Omicron variant has replaced Delta as the dominant coronavirus variant in the latest genome sequencing.

During President Rodrigo Duterte’s latest taped briefing, Duque said the latest genome sequencing run showed at least 60% of the samples turned out positive for Omicron.

“So siya (Omicron) na po ‘yung nagdo-dominate na variant [It is now the dominant variant] whereas before, it was the Delta,” Duque said.

The genome sequencing which was conducted on January 3 showed 60.42% or 29 of 48 samples were Omicron cases, while 18 or 37.50% were found positive for Delta.

In its latest bulletin, the Department of Health stated the new cases brought the country’s active caseload to 208,164, of which 5,521 are asymptomatic; 170,873 are mild; 1,464 are severe; and 295 are in critical condition.

Total recoveries rose to 2,797,816, or 91.5 percent of 3,058,634 infections since the pandemic started in March 2020.

This is the highest active case count since the 184,088 infections on September 18, 2021, the DOH said.

Of the 28,007 cases reported, 27,604 occurred within the recent 14 days from December 29 to January 11.

 The number of areas under granular lockdown in the country has climbed to 170 from 116, according to the Philippine National Police (PNP), adding 94 areas are in the National Capital Region (NCR); 57 from Cagayan; 13 from Ilocos; five from Mimaropa; and one from Cordillera