ALARM AIRED ON ‘NEW’ COVID SURGE: Stricter lockdown, health protocols likely if Delta variant cases increase


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MANILA/WASHINGTON – Alarmed that the highly transmissible variant of COVID-19 called Delta variant has spread rapidly in the Philippines, President Rodrigo Duterte and health authorities have alerted officials and the citizens to take extra precautions by readying hospital and quarantine facilities and speeding up vaccinations as well as strictly enforcing health protocols.

At press time, the Department of Health has detected 55 additional cases of the COVID-19 Delta variant, bringing the total to 119 spread in Metro Manila and other areas, including the provinces in Luzon, Visayas and Mindanao, with one additional death, bringing the fatalities so far to four. 

In the White House, it was reported that the United States will not lift any existing travel restrictions “at this point” due to concerns over the highly transmissible COVID-19 Delta variant and the rising number of U.S. coronavirus cases.

The United States currently bars most non-U.S. citizens who within the last 14 days have been in the United Kingdom, the 26 Schengen nations in Europe without internal border controls, or in Ireland, China, India, South Africa, Iran and Brazil.The extraordinary U.S. travel restrictions were first imposed on China in January 2020 to address the spread of COVID-19. Other countries have since been added, most recently India in early May.

A report from the White House quoted U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) director Rochelle Walensky stating that the seven-day average of new cases in the United States was up 53% over the previous week. The Delta variant, which was first found in India, now comprises more than 80% of new cases nationwide and has been detected in more than 90 countries.

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Other developments:

  1. Metro Manila’s healthcare capacity is at “moderate risk” in the event of another COVID-19 surge, said  Health Undersecretary Maria Rosario Vergeire as she reminded the public to continue to follow minimum health standards and to get vaccinated for protection against severe COVID-19.

2.      OCTA Research had proposed a “circuit breaker” lockdown to reverse what it said was the early stages of a virus surge possibly due to the Delta variant in the capital region.

Meanwhile, hospitals in Metro Manila may reach full capacity by mid-August if the national government does not tighten community quarantine restrictions in the National Capital Region, according to the independent research group OCTA.

Based on projections from Thailand, Malaysia and Vietnam, Metro Manila’s health care utilization rate may be 100 percent full as early as August 15, said OCTA Research fellow Fr. Nicanor Austriaco.

“Once a Delta surge begins, it accelerates in an explosive fashion,” he said in an online press conference.”The Delta variant has a better key… to enter human cells. It is also more able to make more copies of itself,” he said.

Health experts claim that the variant, first detected in India, is seen as responsible for the collapse of the healthcare system in the densely-populated countries, including the rise of cases in other Asian countries such as Indonesia and Thailand.

In a statement, the DOH said 37 of the additional cases are local cases, while 17 are returning overseas Filipinos (ROF). The DOH is also still verifying if one case is a returning overseas Filipino or a local case.

Of the local cases, 14 are from Calabarzon, 8 are from Northern Mindanao, 6 had indicated addresses in the National Capital Region, 6 are from Central Luzon, 2 are from Davao Region and one case is from the Ilocos Region, the DOH reported. 

The DOH reported that 54 of those afflicted have recovered.

President Duterte, during his State of the Nation Address (SONA), said the imposition of lockdown is possible if the Delta variant spreads further.

“It is rampaging now in Indonesia, Thailand, India, and many parts of Asia. And ang sabi doon sa — the Western medicine says that it is far more aggressive and far more dangerous and it can cause death easily than the COVID-19 original,” the President said.

“If it is really dangerous, you have to go back to lockdown. If there are many people in other parts of the world killing as many, then Delta, if ever it will spread — we have it here now — I hope it will not go any further,” he said.

“But if something wrong happens, I’ll have to be strict and I have now my word that there will be a… Just like what happened in the early days,” he added.

But the President said he still does not know the next step and he will wait for the advice of the task force assessing government response to the pandemic.

President Duterte said the country already received over 30 million doses of COVID-19 vaccines.

“We expect to receive at least 36 million vaccines this month and in August. We have inoculated more than 17 million Filipinos around 11 million of which have received their first dose,” he said.

The government should impose a lockdown as soon as possible while Delta variant cases are not yet surging, said Dr. Guido David, another OCTA Research fellow.”An early circuit-breaker on August 1 may need just 2 weeks or even one week to regain effective control of the pandemic,” he said.Twenty-one out of the 72 local cases of the highly contagious Delta coronavirus variant were tested by or admitted to the Philippine General Hospital (PGH), its officials said. 

PGH spokesperson Dr. Jonas Del Rosario said six of the 21 patients were admitted to the hospital while the rest were only tested for COVID-19 there.

Of the six admitted, two died and four have recovered. Del Rosario said both fatalities were unvaccinated against COVID-19, while only one among the recoveries had received a jab. The said recovered patient only exhibited mild symptoms.

PGH infection control chief Dr. Regina Berba assured the public that no outbreak was recorded among PGH health personnel despite the detection of the Delta variant there.