By ALFRED GABOT
Editor in Chief
MANILA/WASHINGTON/GENEVA – Fearful of possible cases and deaths by the thousands just like India and Indonesia due to the spread of the deadlier Delta variant of COVID-19 in the Philippines, the United States and elsewhere, the government placed Metro Manila and nearby provinces anew under strict lockdown or Enhanced Community Quarrantine (ECQ) from August 6 to 20.
Racing against time to curb the spread of the virus, the government, at the same time, extended the ban on travellers from India, where the variant was first discovered, the United Arab Emirates (UAE) and eight other countries as President Rodrigo Duterte ordered the Philippine National Police (PNP) and local government units to set up and man checkpoints at the NCR Plus borders to control travel by unauthorized persons outside of their own towns or cities.
This as Delta variant cases rose to over 450 as of August 6, with nine deaths and over 300 recoveries, prompting the independent group OCTA Research to press for the two-week strict protocols, which Metro Manila mayors agreed and approved by Duterte and the Inter-Agency Task Force (IATF) on Managing Communicable Diseases noting that there may have been already community transmission of the Delta variant in the metropolis and some areas in the country as cases of the variant rose by 25 percent from 15 percent.
Under the strict lockdown, only authorized persons doing essential work and only one person from each family is allowed to go out of their homes to go to the market, supermarket or essential errands while the rest are asked to stay put at home. Penalties of P500 up to P5,000 for several offenses are to be imposed on violators of the curfew, travel ban and health protocols.
Many businesses and offices have been ordered shut down or with limited services and number of employes,
Meanwhile, the National Economic and Development Authority (NEDA) disclosed the Philippine economy could lose P150 billion for each week that Metro Manila and other areas are under strict lockdown.
Socioeconomic Planning Secretary Karl Kendrick Chua said the lockdown will affect “more than 600 thousand workers and will increase the number of the poor by about 250,000.”
The government also stepped up vaccinations with some vaccination centers open at night or 24 hours. Drive through vaccination centers were also set up leading to over 21 million Filipinos vaccinated out of its 110 million population.
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Globally, the COVID 19 has killed at least 4,234,618 people out of 198,815,960 cases since the outbreak emerged in Wuhan in China in December 2019.
But the World Health Organization (WHO) estimates that the pandemic’s overall toll could be two to three times higher than official records.
The United States is the worst-affected country with 613,679 deaths from 35,131,438 cases followed by Brazil, Russia and France.
A government scientist said the Delta variant can infect up to 8 people at a time, who in turn can each infect 8 others, which drove the recent surge in Indonesia and India.
At press time, there might be already 300 new cases of Delta variant per day in the National Capital Region (NCR), said Professor Guido David of the independent OCTA Research.
The pandemic has already caused the Philippines to plunge into its worst economic contraction since World War 2, losing over P2 trillion in value in the 15 months since the virus started affecting the country. Again, the new lockdown would cost several billions of pesos in losses, it was learned.
The OCTA Research projects Metro Manila will reach 2,000 daily cases by August 10 since infections are already accelerating at 1,700, David said.
The group warned that if there are no changes in the quarantine restrictions in the region, hospital beds would reach 70 percent occupancy in less than five weeks, while ICU beds will be 70 percent utilized in less than three weeks.
“There were 530 more hospital beds occupied compared to the previous week (occupancy went up from 38 percent to 45 percent), while ICU occupancy increased from 45 percent to 52 percent,” it added.
According to the group, 13 of the 17 localities in the NCR are now considered “high risk” areas because of the Delta variant there.
The country on Saturday recorded 8,147 more COVID-19 cases and on Sunday (August 1) had confirmed 8,735 new cases, the second and third straight day that additional infections counted more than 8,000,. This raised the total recorded cases to 1,597,689 cases, of which 63,646 are active, and deaths at 28,231. On Wednesday, August 4, the cases recorded were 7,342 .
India is the second most badly affected country, with 31.6 million infections. But in terms of deaths, Brazil has recorded more fatalities than India, with the South American country reporting over 556,000 COVID-19 deaths against India’s 424,000 confirmed fatalities.
In Geneva, WHO said the world is at risk of losing hard-won gains in fighting COVID-19 as the highly transmissible Delta variant spreads, but emphasized that WHO-approved vaccines remain effective against the virus.
In Washington, the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has described the Delta variant of the coronavirus as being as transmissible as chickenpox and cautioned it could cause severe disease, the Washington Post reported, citing an internal CDC document.
President Joseph Biden’s chief medical adviser Dr. Anthony Fauci, however, said he does not expect the United States will return to lockdowns, despite the growing risks of COVID-19 infections posed by the Delta variant but warned that “things are going to get worse” as the Delta variant continues to spread.
“I don’t think we’re going to see lockdowns,” Fauci, who is also director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, said on ABC’s “This Week.”
Meanwhile, New York’s Governor Andrew Cuomo urged businesses to turn away unvaccinated customers while Florida, as Reuters reported, grappled with an influx of hospitalized COVID-19 patients, both sparked by the surging Delta variant that could lead to new restrictions on daily life.
Florida, whose governor has resisted mask or vaccine mandates, has one of the worst outbreaks in the nation and about one-quarter of the country’s hospitalized COVID patients, according to data from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services
COVID-19 infections have increased by 80% over the past four weeks in most regions of the world, WHO director-general Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said. Deaths in Africa – where only 1.5% of the population is vaccinated – rose by 80% over the same period.
The Delta variant has been detected in 132 countries, becoming the dominant global strain, according to the WHO.The Department of Health reported that a total of 47 Delta variant cases have been recorded in nine cities in the National Capital Region (NCR).The DOH noted that Caloocan has four Delta variant cases; Las Piñas, 14; Makati, three; Malabon, four; Mandaluyong, two; Pasig, six; San Juan, two; Valenzuela, one; and Manila, 11.
Health Undersecretary Maria Rosario Vergeire said nine out of 17 local government units in NCR have at least one patient infected with the Delta variant of coronavirus as of August 1. But two days later, she disclosed that all the 17 cities and one town in Metro Manila have already confirmed Delta variant cases.
The DOH flagged the NCR, Central Visayas, Ilocos Region, Cagayan Valley, Cordillera Administrative Region, and Northern Mindanao for having a high-risk classification based on its moderate two-week growth rate and high-risk average daily attack rate.
So far, the country’s total number of Delta cases is 216 – 165 are local cases, 48 are returning overseas Filipinos (ROFs) while three are undergoing verification to determine if these are local cases or ROFs.
Half of the provinces and cities in the Philippines have been reporting more COVID-19 cases in recent days, Vergeire added.
“Dumadami po yung severe and critical cases… We need to focus on our vulnerables para mapigilan natin ang mga pagkakamatay sa ating bansa,” she said.