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Tuesday, March 5, 2024

COVID ‘still explosive,’ WHO warns; PH cases climb back over 10,000

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The Geneva-based World Health Organization has warned that the COVID-19 pandemic is still explosive, saying there could be further trouble before the virus settles into a predictable pattern.

In the last 28 days, more than 23,000 deaths and three million new cases were reported to the WHO, in the context of much-reduced testing.

According to the Philippine Department of Health, the country’s tally of active COVID-19 cases climbed back over 10,000 on Tuesday, with 287 new infections reported.

The caseload stood at 10,263, the DOH’s COVID-19 Tracker showed.

Three years since the WHO declared COVID-19 a pandemic, the Philippines has recorded 4,086,620 cases. The country’s first confirmed infection was recorded on Jan. 30, 2020.

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Majority or 98 percent have recovered from COVID-19 while 66,443 have succumbed to the disease.

Meanwhile, an infectious disease expert supports the DOH stand on the voluntary use of face masks despite an increase in COVID-19 cases.

But masking should be encouraged among high-risk, vulnerable populations such as people who are immunocompromised and unvaccinated, Dr. Rontgene Solante said Wednesday.

“I fully agree with what DOH is telling us that masking will continue to be voluntary,” he told ANC’s “Headstart”.

In a press briefing Tuesday, DOH officer-in-charge Maria Rosario Vergeire noted there was an uptick in the virus tally, but hospital utilization remained manageable.

While the COVID numbers are decreasing, “there’s still a lot of people dying… and getting sick,” WHO emergencies director Michael Ryan told a press conference in Geneva Tuesday.

He said respiratory viruses would not pass from a pandemic to an endemic phase, but instead move to low levels of activity with potentially seasonal epidemic peaks.

“We don’t turn off a pandemic switch,” said Ryan, adding “It’s much more likely that we’re going to see… a bumpy road to a more predictable pattern.”

The WHO’s emergency committee on COVID-19 meets every three months and is due to assemble early next month.

Officials said WHO would decide whether the virus still constituted a public health emergency of international concern (PHEIC) — the highest level of alert the UN health agency could sound.

The WHO declared COVID-19 a PHEIC on January 30, 2020, when there were fewer than 100 cases and no deaths outside China.

But it was not until WHO chief Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus described the situation as a pandemic in March 2020 that the world was jolted into action.

Ryan said the virus would not be eliminated and would, like influenza, still cause significant respiratory disease in vulnerable people.

Some countries still have large populations of highly vulnerable people who are unvaccinated, he said, while in others COVID-19 is no longer an emergency event.

The COVID-19 committee presents its advice to Tedros — who has the final say — on whether the virus still constitutes a PHEIC.

“I would hope that as the emergency committee meets in May, they will have further positive advice to give Dr. Tedros around their assessment of the trajectory of the pandemic and the existence or not of a PHEIC,” said Ryan.

The health agency sees no need to reimpose strict mask rules even with an uptick in coronavirus infections. The country’s quarantine and isolation protocols will also not be amended.

The recent rise in COVID-19 positivity rate, or the percentage of tests turning out positive for the virus, is also not a cause for alarm, Solante said.

“Those numbers are not really something we need to worry about,” he said. “Most of the cases are mild and most likely these are those who are unvaccinated or partially vaccinated.” AFP with Willie Casas

He also noted the boosted population remains low.

As of March 20, more than 78.4 million Filipinos are fully vaccinated against COVID-19.

Of the figure, over 23.8 million have received their first booster dose while almost 4.4 million have gotten the second booster shot. With Willie Casas

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