Philippines at ‘high risk’ of COVID again as cases soar

THEN HEALTH SECRETARY Francisco Duque III administering COVID vaccine on President Duterte while Sen. Bong Go looks on in this file photo.

By Claire Morales True

MANILA – The Department of Health has classified the Philippines as “high risk” for COVID-19 again following the sharp increase in cases in the past two weeks even as the highly transmissible omicron variant has spread.

Following the classification, Metro Manila or the National Capital Region, and the provinces of Rizal, Cavite and Bulacan, and Laguna later, were placed under the stricter Alert Level 3 where stricter mobility rules and business operations are in place.

The government continue to step up its vaccination of citizens to stop the spread of the virus.

So far, the Philippines has administered 109,309,588 COVID-19 vaccine doses as of January 3, while 61,151,369 people received their first doses, and 50,159,858 were fully vaccinated. About 1,968,913 have received booster doses.

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Health Secretary Francisco Duque III said during President Rodrigo Duterte’s “Talk to the People” public briefing that  the country had a 448% 2-week growth rate in COVID-19 cases. The average daily attack rate (ADAR), meanwhile, was at 1.66.

The country’s previous two-week growth rate was minus 49%, while its ADAR was at 0.30.

Duque added that between December 29, 2021 to January 4, the Philippines reported a daily average of 3,313 COVID-19 infections. He said this was 849% higher than the 349 average daily cases reported between December 22 to December 28.

“Malaki pong bahagi ay nasa NCR,” he said. “Almost 70% ng mga kaso ay galing po sa NCR. So makikita niyo po ang ating uptick ng mga cases.”

The death toll has reached 51,743 with 81 new deaths, representing 1.79 percent of overall cases.

“Of the 81 deaths, 6 occurred in January 2022 (7 percent), 6 in December 2021 (7 percent), 8 in November 2021 (10 percent), 19 in October 2021 (23 percent), 24 in September 2021 (30 percent), 12 in August 2021 (15 percent), 3 in July 2021 (4 percent), 2 in June 2021 (2 percent), and 1 in May 2021 (1 percent) due to the late encoding of death information to COVIDKaya,” the DOH said.

The regions with the most cases in the recent two weeks were the National Capital Region (NCR) with 11,563 or 68 percent of new infections; Calabarzon, 3,165 or 19 percent; and Central Luzon, 1,126 or 7 percent.

The NCR was tagged with a critical risk classification for having a 2-week growth rate of 1,475 percent and an ADAR of 8.79. Following this was Region 4A (557% 2-week growth rate; 1.60 ADAR), and Region 3 (339% 2-week growth rate; 0.91 ADAR).

The utilization of hospital facilities in the country was also on the rise, with the bed utilization rate as of January 3 at 24 percent or 6 points higher than the 18 percent reported on December 27.

The intensive care unit utilization rate, meanwhile, was at 26% or an increase of 8 points, while mechanical ventilator usage was at 14% up by 4 points.

However, despite the rise in infections, Duque said that deaths due to COVID-19 were still falling in the country.

“Ang atin pong death curve naman ay nanatiling bumababa,” he said. “Isa itong patunay na epektibo po talaga ang atin pong vaccination program laban sa COVID.”

Metro Manila, Bulacan, Rizal, and Cavite are already under COVID-19 Alert Level 3 until January 15 amid soaring numbers of cases. Laguna was placed under the same alert level later.

To prevent more infections, Duque called for the suspension of mass gatherings such as the traditional January 9 Traslacion on the feast of the Black Nazarene.

Epidemiologist John Wong added that to address the COVID surge the government must prioritize vaccinating the unvaccinated, especially the elderly. More Filipinos should also be convinced of the benefits of vaccines to boost inoculations.

“Vaccinating somebody who is vaccinated is (5) times more effective than adding a booster to someone who is already vaccinated,” he said.

Officials have recommended to President Duterte not to allow unvaccinated individuals to leave their residences, except for essential activities, under the “no vax, no labas” policy earlier adopted by the National Capital Region (NCR).
During Duterte’s Talk to the People on Tuesday night, Presidential Adviser for Covid-19 Response Vivencio Dizon said he, along with Health Secretary Francisco Duque III and National Task Force Against Covid-19 (NTF) chief implementer Secretary Carlito Galvez Jr., pushed for the adoption of this policy nationwide amid the spike in coronavirus disease 2019 (Covid-19) cases.
“We are recommending that this policy in (the) NCR also be adopted by the entire country, even in areas that have not yet experienced the surge because we know it is really just a matter of time that this Omicron has spread throughout the country,” Dizon said.
He added that many countries, particularly those in Europe, are already restricting the mobility of unvaccinated persons.
“This is really the situation today in different countries, not just us, that the unvaccinated are really the ones that are being hit badly by the new variants and they are the ones causing the health care systems to be congested. And because of that, they pose the greatest risk,” Dizon said.
Earlier, members of the Inter-Agency Task Force for the Management of Emerging Infectious Diseases and the private sector lauded the “bold move” of Metro Manila mayors to limit the mobility of unvaccinated individuals as Covid-19 cases skyrocketed following the holidays and the presence of the Omicron variant in the country.