COVID-19 CASES DOWN BUT DOH WARNS OF POSSIBLE SURGE ‘Happy Christmas’ seen as WHO says pandemic far from over

By ALFRED GABOT, Editor in Chief

MANILA/NEW YORK – Philippine government health authorities have confirmed that COVID-19 cases all over the country have slowed down due to vaccination, but warned that the relaxation of quarantines and the convergence of large crowds that go with it could lead to a fresh wave of cases in four to six months.

As of October 27, the Philippines has recorded 2,768,849 confirmed COVID-19 cases as it logged 3,218 new infections for that day,  of which, 50,152 or 1.8%  were active, according to the Department of Health.

The death toll climbed to 42,348 on October 27, which is 1.53% of the COVID-19 total, after 271 more people lost their lives. For the past four days, the number of new fatalities have been above a hundred.

With continued drop of cases, officials project a happy Christmas with more businesses open, travel restrictions relaxed, curfew reduced to four hours and quarantine days cut, especially for vaccinated international and domestic travellers.

 Health Secretary Francisco Duque III, however, warned that the convergence of large crowds for the Christmas season, together with the public’s complacency in following health protocols, could lead to a fresh wave of cases in four to six months.

This as the World Health Organization (WHO) emergency committee warned that despite vaccination, the COVID-19 crisis is “far from over.”

“While progress has been made through increased uptake of COVID-19 vaccines and therapeutics, analysis of the present situation and forecasting models indicate that the pandemic is far from finished,” the WHO said in a statement during a virtual meeting.

The WHO emergency committee called for further research into reusable masks and respirators, and next-generation vaccines, diagnostics and therapeutics “for long-term control of the pandemic”.

“The use of masks, physical distancing, hand hygiene, and improving ventilation of indoor spaces remain key to reducing transmission of SARS CoV-2,” the statement stressed.

The decline of cases prompted the DOH to place the Philippines under low-risk classification, Health Undersecretary Maria Rosario Vergeire said on October 25.

“Nationally we are at low-risk case classification with a negative two-week growth rate at negative 48% and a moderate risk average daily attack rate of 5.89 cases for every 100,000 individuals,” Vergeire said in a virtual briefing

She added that the national health system capacity is now at moderate risk classification.

“All of the regions now with a negative two-week growth rate and low- to moderate- risk case classifications,” Vegeire continued.

Vergeire said that the epidemic curve in the country showed that cases peaked from September 6 to 12, where 20,946 were reported daily on average.

Meanwhile, vaccine czar Secretary Carlito Galvez, Jr. reported to President Rodrigo Duterte in a meeting that “more or less 50 percent” of the population may be vaccinated by the end of December.

As of October 25, the country has immunized 25.95 million individuals, while nearly 30.3 million are partially vaccinated.

The country has received a total of 97.6 million doses of different COVID-19 vaccine brands, of which, 55.7 million have already been administered.

Galvez said the goal of receiving 100 million doses of vaccine this month may be reached as additional shipments courtesy of the COVAX facility and some donor countries may arrive later this week.

In other developments:

1.      It would be impossible for the Philippines to achieve this year the government’s high-end target of fully vaccinating against the coronavirus 70 percent of the country’s population, said Health Undersecretary Myrna Cabotaje, adding covering some 77.1 million people, may only be reached in the first quarter of 2022. The DOH targets at least 50 percent of the population by the end of the year.

2.      Nationwide COVID-19 vaccination for all minors aged 12 to 17 will start as early as November 3, said vaccine czar Carlito Galvez Jr. The DOH said that Pfizer and Moderna vaccines will l be used among children during the nationwide rollout.

3.      Metro Manila is ready to shift to Alert Level 2 from 3 by November should infections and coronavirus-related hospitalizations continue to drop, said Interior and Local Government Secretary Eduardo Ano and the DOH.

The WHO emergency committee said the protracted pandemic was making humanitarian emergencies, mass migration and other crises more complex, adding states should e revise their preparedness and response plans.

The WHO committee first declared on January 30 last year that the virus was a public health emergency of international concern (PHEIC) — the highest alarm the WHO can sound.

The committee maintained its insistence that proof of vaccination should not be required for international travel or be the only condition for it “given limited global access and inequitable distribution of Covid-19 vaccines.”