By ALFRED GABOT and CLAIRE MORALES TRUE
Editor in Chief and Managing Editor
MANILA — More variants of the twice deadly India variant of COVID-19 and other variants have been detected in the Philippines prompting vaccinated President Rodrigo Duterte and health officials to urge the country to prepare for “the worst” COVID-19 situation, as more contagious variants of the novel coronavirus also spread worldwide.
The pandemic is getting “hotter and more dangerous” as COVID-19 variants could pose “a problem discovering new vaccines,” Duterte said in a taped briefing in Malacanang aired on national television even as health authorities reported that 43 people have already died in the Philippines of the United Kingdom, South Africa and Philippine variants.
“With the advent of the new variants it is good to prepare for a more serious attack,” Duterte stressed.
During the same address, Duterte said he might impose another lockdown, this time “stricter,” if coronavirus infections surge again due to more contagious COVID-19 variants and violations of health protocols.
New, more contagious coronavirus variants “make our job doubly hard to do,” Duterte said.
“Ang pag-asa natin is really the obedience, parang (like a) boy scout. You want to end the danger of COVID-19 engulfing this country,” the President said. “Kapag hindi, napipilitan talaga ako na to impose lockdowns and everything (If not, I will be forced to impose lockdowns and everything.),” he said at the televised briefing.
The government has stepped up its vaccination against the virus and adopted various measures such as strict border control and quarantine protocols, adherence to minimum public health standards, implementation of the Prevent-Detect-Isolate-Treat-Reintegrate by local governments, and getting vaccinated to prevent the further spread of the coronavirus and its variants.
More than 3 million Filipinos have been vaccinated at press time since inoculation started in March, said vaccine czar, Secretary Carlito Galvez Jr. told Mr. Duterte during the public address as Health Secretary Francisco Duque III projected hitting 4 million vaccinations before May ends.
Meanwhile, Vice President Ma. Leonor Robredo and 18 of her staff were vaccinated against the virus on May 19 in Quezon City, several days after Mr. Duterte himself got the jab from Secretary Duque himself. Robredo later called on the citizens to get their jabs.
The government has deployed 7,149,020 vaccines out of 7,779,050 in 3,784 vaccination sites, Galvez added.
At press time, the Department of Health reported that based on data from the Philippine Genome Center (PGC) and the University of the Philippines – National Institutes of Health (UP-NIH), there are 24 active cases of four of the five variants of the severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2 (SARS-CoV-2), the virus that causes Covid-19, out of 2,248 variant cases sequenced by the group.
Of the 24 active cases, seven are of the B.1.1.7 (UK) variant, seven of the B.1.351 (South Africa), nine of the B.1.617.2 (India), and one of the P.3 (Philippines).
Of the 2,248 variant cases reported, 967 are of the UK variant, 1,109 South Africa variant cases, 12 for the Indian variant, two for the Brazil variant, and 158 for the Philippines variant.
So far, there have been 23 deaths caused by the UK variant, 18 by the South Africa variant, and two by the Philippines variant.
“We do not have a guarantee that the vaccines should forthcoming on time, na walang maraming mamamatay (that many people won’t die). And if it is more serious mutant, variant, we’ll just have to prepare for the worst,” said the President in his public address.
Also at press time, the Philippines logged 4,700 more COVID-19 infections, raising the country’s total to 1,159,071, of which 49,951 or 4.3 percent are considered active, the lowest count in over two months, as COVID-related fatalities increased by 136 to 19,507. Recoveries rose to 1,082,725.
While the independent OCTA Research noted a decreasing trend of cases in Metro Manila, it reported that three cities outside Metro Manila have recorded “significant increases” in new COVID-19 infections.
These include Cagayan de Oro, Davao City, and Iloilo City, which are in the top 10 list of areas outside the national capital region with the biggest rise in cases over the past week.
Cagayan de Oro ranked second highest with 94 new cases, which translates to a 52% increase. Davao City stood at the 4th spot, as it saw a 36% jump with 61 more infections. Iloilo City, which is 7th in the list, recorded the steepest rise at 99% with 58 more virus-hit residents.
The highest number of new cases outside NCR was still seen in Zamboanga City with 158, the report showed.
OCTA said most cities within the NCR Plus (Metro Manila, Bulacan, Cavite, Rizal and Laguna) are on a downward trend in cases.
The Department of Health also reported an upward trend in infections in 10 regions, mostly in the Visayas and Mindanao.