END OF COVID-19 PANDEMIC IN SIGHT? PHL may lift state of calamity, wants health protocols still followed

By ALFRED GABOT, Editor in Chief

MANILA/GENEVA – Experts from the World Health Organization (WHO) and the Department of Health in the Philippines have noted a slowdown on the spread of Covid-19 but continue to advise the people to follow health protocols as some countries have dropped pandemic restrictions.

“We are not there yet. But the end is in sight,” WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said earlier as he expressed optimism on the outlook from the global health pandemic surveillance.

In the Philippines, health department officials said they see encouraging signs that could pave the way for the lifting of the country’s state of calamity due to the pandemic.

“Sa tingin ko (I think), with this plateauing of cases, improved vaccination coverage and minimal na severe and critical admissions in hospitals, we can recommend to the president itong lifting itong state of calamity,” said Health Officer-in-Charge Maria Rosario Vergeire.

The health authorities, at the same time, reminded the public to proceed with their daily lives with caution, by following health protocols.

In a related development, infectious diseases specialist Dr. Rontgene Solante, head of the Adult Infectious Diseases and Tropical Medicine at San Lazaro Hospital, said the COVID-19 situation in the country is showing indicators that its endemic state may be nearing.

In another development, the independent OCTA Research Group said it sees a continuing downward trend in COVID-19 cases in the National Capital Region.

In a report, OCTA Research fellow Dr. Guido David said the seven-day positivity rate in the region dropped to 17.3 percent as of Oct. 10, from 19 percent a week ago or Oct. 3.

“Let’s hope the downward trend continues the rest of the year,” David said.

Solante said in a television interview the number of COVID-19 cases in the Philippines has been on a downtrend and most cases are only showing mild symptoms.

Solante also disclosed the hospitals are already stable, with some seeing a significant decrease in COVID-19 admissions.

“When you say endemic, [it] means that cases are really already low,” Solante explained. 

“Ang ibig sabihin ng pandemic, mataas ang mga kaso, mataas ang nagpupunta sa (Pandemic means there are a lot of cases and there are a lot of patients in the) hospital. That’s why you have to call it pandemic because you want to lessen and mitigate the number of cases. Sa ngayon, hindi na natin nakikita ‘to,” he added as ABS-CBN reported.
“In fact, a lot of countries are already opening the borders, a lot of countries are already increasing the mobility of people. May mga concert na. May mga gatherings na. And that is not the picture of a pandemic. Parang endemic na,” he said. 

Solante said COVID-19 may be in an endemic state in the Philippines if the positivity rate is less than 10 percent, the healthcare utilization rate is less than 50 percent, and at least 50 percent of the population have received their booster shots against the disease.

On October 11, the DOH reported that 1,554 new COVID-19 cases have been recorded in the country, raising the total to 3,971,455.
The DOH also reported that as of October 10, more than 73.3 million people in the Philippines are fully vaccinated against COVID-19, of whom, over 20.1 million have received their first booster dose while more than 3 million have gotten their second booster shots.

Once the state of calamity is lifted, Solante said COVID-19 vaccines will no longer be free.

“Vaccines are given via EUA because we are still in the state of emergency,” he said.
As many countries prepare for the onset of colder weather, WHO COVID-19 technical lead Dr. Maria Van Kerkhove said in an ABS-CBN report there are already measures in place to minimize the risk of both influenza and COVID-19, but countries should implement these properly.

She recommended taking vaccines that protect from both COVID-19 and the flu.

“As the world is opening up and people are mixing again, we’re starting to see circulation of other viruses,” she said.

“So, it is really important that we put measures in place, we use the measures that are in place to reduce the spread and to protect people who are most vulnerable for developing severe disease, and one of those measures is vaccination,” she added.

Van Kerkhove urged countries to also prepare health systems and conduct active surveillance for the detection of the known variants and subvariants that are circulating.

“We need strong health systems to be able to deal with patients and provide appropriate clinical care regardless of where they show up within the health care system,” she said.
Meanwhile,  628 more cases of four Omicron subvariants and 94 new cases of Delta variant of the coronavirus disease 2019 (Covid-19) have been detected in the country, according to the DOH.
e DOH said 605 of the total count for the Omicron subvariants are BA.5 cases, 18 are BA.4 cases and five are BA.2.75 cases.

Of the 605 BA.5 cases, 22 are from the Ilocos Region, 63 from Cagayan Valley, 28 from Central Luzon, one from Bicol Region, 26 from Western Visayas, 52 from Central Visayas, three from Zamboanga Peninsula, 12 from Northern Mindanao, 46 from Davao Region, 145 from Soccsksargen, 30 from Calabarzon, 12 from Mimaropa, 12 from Bangsamoro Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao, 39 from Cordillera Administrative Region, five from Caraga, 107 from the National Capital Region (NCR), and two are returning overseas Filipinos.

For the 18 additional BA.4 cases, one is from Cagayan Valley, one is from Bicol Region, one is from Northern Mindanao, and 15 from Soccsksargen.

One of the five new BA.2.75 cases are from the Ilocos Region, one from Central Luzon, one from Central Visayas, one from Davao Region, and one returning overseas Filipino.

The DOH also detected 93 new cases of Delta variant — one in Cagayan Valley, one in Central Visayas, 36 in Davao Region, 51 in Soccsksargen, two from Calabarzon, one from Caraga, one from NCR and one being verified.

All the reported cases are based on the latest genome sequencing results Oct. 7 to 10.