12 more Delta cases found as Philippines brace for surge

A volunteer medical worker prepares to administer the Sinovac Covid-19 vaccine to workers during a vaccination drive for economic frontliners in Manila on July 20, 2021. - AFP

MANILA (Philippine Daily Inquirer/ANN): The independent pandemic monitor OCTA Research group on Thursday (July 21) called for “urgent and appropriate” response from the national and local governments, saying the uptick in Covid-19 cases in the nation’s capital could be driven by the more transmissible Delta variant after the Department of Health (DOH) reported 12 more cases.

“The OCTA Research group believes that a surge in its early stages has started in the NCR (National Capital Region),” it said in a report.

Molecular biologist and OCTA fellow Nicanor Austriaco said the national government should be ready to impose more restrictions on the movement of people and prepare hospitals while increasing its capacity for contact tracing to control the spread of the Delta coronavirus variant.

Austriaco said local governments should also intensify contact tracing, be ready to implement localised lockdowns “quickly and generously” and prepare isolation facilities.

Ranjit Rye, another OCTA fellow, said the Inter-Agency Task Force for the Management of Emerging Infectious Diseases “at the very least” must consider a stricter quarantine status or impose more restrictions in the NCR.

“The current GCQ (general community quarantine) status without restrictions will not be enough,” Rye told reporters.

“The key to dealing with this impending surge in cases in the NCR requires timely and appropriate interventions that would include lockdowns augmented by expanded testing and tracing,” he said, adding that the surge earlier in the year became more deadly due to delays in the implementation of government curbs.

The DOH on Thursday said the 12 new cases of the Delta variant of SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes Covid-19, were all local cases that had all recovered.

Last week, the DOH reported 16 additional Delta variant cases, 11 of them local cases. It said two had died and the rest had recovered, but days later it announced that eight were retested and found still infected.

Of the 12 new cases, the DOH said six had addresses in Central Luzon, two in Calabarzon, one in Bicol Region and three in the NCR.

The health department did not immediately respond to queries on whether any of the 12 cases were fully vaccinated. Of the 11 local cases it reported last week, one was fully vaccinated.

The DOH said the 12 raised the total number of Delta variant cases in the country to 47.

“With the detection of additional cases, it is crucial that we implement enhanced response immediately in the areas where these cases were detected and its contiguous [local government units] as well as areas with case spikes with the premise that there may be ongoing local transmission already,” the DOH said.

OCTA said measures were taken too late to prevent the deadly surge that swept through the NCR and nearby provinces in March and April, which overwhelmed health-care workers and hospitals, leading to high fatality rates.

“Let us not wait for the numbers to explode before we act,” Rye said.

But Austriaco assured the public that a “devastating surge” was not inevitable.

The government will not lose control of the pandemic if it conducts contact tracing, testing, isolation and quarantine, and apply the “liberal use of lockdowns,” he said at a press briefing in Malacañang.

Austriaco said the government should be prepared to increase mobility restrictions quickly and he underscored the need for enough supply of medicines and oxygen for Covid-19 patients.

OCTA reported that the reproduction rate of the virus in the NCR had increased to 1.15, which was “a cause for serious concern.”

“The trend in the reproduction over the past week shows a similar pattern with the trend from Feb 12 to Feb. 19, when the reproduction number increased from 1.06 to 1.30,” the group said.

The reproduction number indicates how fast the virus is spreading. A reproduction number of 1 or higher indicates a sustained transmission of the virus. The reproduction rate was 1.96 in the week before the NCR and nearby provinces were placed under enhanced community quarantine in April.

In addition to suggesting stricter quarantine as well as expanded tracing and testing, OCTA also called on authorities to reduce the allowed capacity of business establishments, lengthen curfew hours and reduce mobility of children and adolescents.

“There is still time to reverse this trend in the NCR, but we need to act collectively, decisively and swiftly,” the group said in its report.

Presidential spokesperson Harry Roque said close to 16 million Covid-19 vaccine doses have been administered in the country as of July 21 and 5.23 million have been fully inoculated.

Citing data from OCTA Research, the Quezon City government said that the number of cases in the city was decreasing.

However, its weekly positivity rate increased to 7 per cent during the period July 12 to July 18. This was higher compared to the 5 per cent positivity rate on July 5 to 11. The city conducts an average of 4,500 tests per day.

Quezon City Mayor Joy Belmonte said that this was a “necessary” measure to prevent infections in a patient’s household and community.

At the isolation facility, the patient is prohibited from interacting with other persons and is barred from having visitors, including family members.

The DOH said it recorded 5,828 new Covid-19 cases on Thursday, bringing the national case count to 1,530,266, but due to “technical issues” some cases may not have been updated. It said 3,257 more had recovered, increasing the number of survivors to 1,452,813. But the death of 17 patients raised the number of fatalities to 26,891.

The deaths and recoveries left 50,526 active cases, of which 92.7 per cent are mild. Of the remainder, 1.6 per cent are asymptomatic, 1.5 per cent critical, 2.5 per cent severe and 1.74 per cent moderate cases. - Philippine Daily Inquirer/Asia News Network

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