DELTA VARIANT ALARMS PHL AS COVID CASES SURGE: Record high daily infections, deaths in 15 days noted as community transmission confirmed


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MANILA – The Philippines recorded 18,332 new COVID-19 patients on August 23, its highest number of fresh cases in a single day since the coronavirus was first detected in the country in January 2020, and experts project the daily cases could climb to 20,000 a day as the government’s health department admitted more cases possible as more Delta variant cases have been detected.

On August 24, the total was 13,573 cases which, together with the 18,332 cases brought the country’s total to 1,883,088, 130,350 or 7.0 percent of which are active, based on data from the Department of Health. (See related stories.)

The country’s COVID-19 death toll rose by 151 on August 23 and record 228 on August 24 raising the deaths to 32,492, while 13,794 and 15,820 patients recently recuperated from the disease, pushing the total recoveries to 1,725,218, the DOH said.

For the past 15 straight days, new cases were more than 10,000, according to the DOH. For the month of August alone, cases were near 300,000.

The positivity rate is at 25.5 percent, it said.

Meanwhile, some big hospitals in the capital region have already announced critical to full occupancy, particularly the Philippine General Hospital (PGH), the country’s biggest COVID-19 referral hospital.

As this developed, Laguna  Rep. Ruth Mariano Hernandez became the latest member of the House of Representatives to test positive for COVID-19. Earlier, her husband, Laguna Governor Ramil Hernandez tested positive for the virus. Three congressmen already have died due to the virus.

With the record infections, the DOH said the fresh daily COVID-19 cases will continue to rise in the coming days or weeks, supporting an independent group called OCTA Research which projected 20,000 daily infection cases could be possible in the coming days.

As this developed,  466 new cases of the COVID-19 Delta variant have been detected mostly in Metro Manila, Central Luzon, Calabarzon and Western Visayas, bringing the cases for the highly transmissible variant to 1,273 as of August 23.

Of these Delta variant cases, one is still active, 10 have died and 457 have recovered, health officials reported, adding community transmission has been confirmed.

“Community transmission was identified in Region IV-A and in NCR based on the following observations: 1. Large numbers of Delta cases and 2. Case investigations and phylogenetic analysis showed that these cases cannot be epidemiologically linked to each other nor source/s of infection determined,” the DOH explained.

The DOH has also detected 90 additional Alpha variant cases raising the total to 2,322 , 105 Beta variant cases raising the total to 2,588, and 41 cases of the P.3 variant first detected in the Philippines.

Health Undersecretary and spokesperson Maria Rosario Vergeire revealed the possibility of more cases as the effect of the two-week strict lockdown in Metro Manila and other areas might still be seen within two to three weeks.

“Ayon po sa projections natin makikita pa rin natin tuloy-tuloy tumaas ang ating mga aktibong kaso for these coming days or maybe weeks (According to our projections, we will see the continuous rise of active cases in the coming days or maybe weeks.),” Vergiere said in a television interview.

Vergiere called on local governments to shorten the time to find new cases and isolate them to cut community transmission, and test all symptomatic and exposed close contacts.

Vergiere also called on the public to comply with minimum public health standards and get vaccinated against COVID-19 when eligible.

OCTA Research fellow Guido David noted that cases in areas outside Metro Manila are slowing down but are still rising.

“‘Yung 20,000 cases, mukhang very possible na maabot natin yan within the next 2 weeks, itong 20,000 cases in 1 day (Tallying 20,000 cases in one day is very possible within the next 2 weeks.),” David said in radio-television interview.

David said Metro Manila, which was placed under a  strict lockdown until August 31, has a reproduction rate of 1.67 versus 1.9 the previous week, according to David.

“May epekto ang ECQ (enhanced community quarantine) pero ‘di natin nakikita agad-agad ang pagbaba ng bilang ng kaso. Baka by first or second week of September, pababa na ang bilang ng kaso natin sa Metro Manila,” he said.

Later in a virtual forum, David said active coronavirus cases in Metro Manila may reach 60,000 in September if the spread of COVID-19 continues at current rate.

“Ang nakikita natin ay ‘yung active cases natin maaaring umabot ng 60,000. Baka 70,000 mataas na ‘yan (We are predicting that our active cases may reach 60,000 and may go as high as 70,000.),” Dr. David said.

In a virtual forum, OCTA Research said the surge in COVID-19 cases in Metro Manila may take place in mid-September.

Since the pandemic began, Metro Manila logged 620,334 coronavirus infections, of which 8,732 succumbed to the disease.

Meanwhile, Health Undersecretary Leopoldo Vega said nearly all recent COVID-19 cases in the country now are either asymptomatic or only show mild and moderate symptoms.

“We’re seeing roughly about almost 98 percent mild, moderate and asymptomatics for these COVID cases. We’d seen the numbers of about 1.86 percent for the severe and critical [cases],” Vega said.

“This is kinda different from what we saw in April and last year when it was hovering about three percent for the severe and the critical,” he added.

Vega said while only a small fraction of COVID-19 cases are severe and critical, Metro Manila’s intensive care unit (ICU) bed capacity has been classified as high risk.

“Right now, the healthcare utilization rate in Metro Manila is in moderate risk. However, if you try to look into the intensive care units, it is now in the high risk position at 73 percent,” Vega said.

COVID-19 vaccines prevent hospitalizations and severe cases, he said as he urged more Filipinos to get vaccinated.

As of Aug. 22, the Philippines has fully vaccinated 13.13 million people or 18.5 percent of the target 70.85 million adult individuals,  while about 17.26 million others have received their first dose, data showed.