March 04, 2021 at 02:10 am
Willie Casas and Joel E. Zurbano
The continued increase in the number of COVID-19 cases in Metro Manila might be due to the spread of the UK and South African variants of the coronavirus, researchers from the University of the Philippines tracking the pandemic said Wednesday.
The Philippines has detected its first six cases of the more transmissible South African COVID-19 variant, including four local cases in Pasay City and two returning Filipino migrant workers from Qatar and the United Arab Emirates, the Department of Health (DOH) said.
“We think what drives the increase is the UK or the South African variant...We still lack evidence because we have only conducted few genome sequencing in that area,” Guido David of the OCTA Research Group told ABS-CBN’s Teleradyo.
The country could reach 665,000 total cases and 14,000 deaths if it is unable to curb the spread of the disease, the OCTA Research group warned Monday.
The DOH on Wednesday confirmed that four of the cases with the South African variant are residents of Pasay City.
DOH Epidemiology Bureau director Alethea De Guzman said the Pasay cases include a 61-year-old female, a 39-year-old male, and a 40-year-old male.
De Guzman said Pasay was classified as a “critical risk area” due to the spike in cases in the city.
Pasay logged 12,452 cases with 10,616 recoveries and 168 deaths as of March 2, with 91 percent of its barangays affected by COVID-19.
The DOH said the city’s two-week case growth rate was 386 percent while the average daily attack rate of COVID-19 increased to 24.7 per 100,000 population.
Despite this, Pasay’s health care utilization remained low at 46 percent.
De Guzman credited Pasay City officials for stricter lockdowns and active case finding so that those who are infected can be moved to an isolation facility to minimize the risk of further transmission.
The DOH said that out of the 3,044 samples that underwent genome sequencing, 0.2 percent tested positive for the South Africa variant and 3 percent or 87 samples had the United Kingdom variant.
Both variants are linked to increased transmissibility but there is no evidence yet that they can cause more severe forms of the disease.
De Guzman said the South Africa variant has a mutation that causes increased transmissibility and another mutation that has a potential effect on vaccine efficacy.
De Guzman said the government was still tracing the travel history of four Filipinos who recently tested positive for the South African variant of COVID-19.
The new COVID-19 variant was first detected in Nelson Mandela Bay in South Africa in October 2020.
It was seen to have the N501Y mutation in the spike protein, making it more efficient at gaining access to human cells to replicate.
Pasay City Mayor Imelda Rubiano said three patients infected with the South African variant have already recovered but will still have to undergo further tests as part of their efforts to fully contain the spread of the virus.
“I just want to inform the public that the three patients infected with the South African variant have already recovered from the disease but we will not stop our contact tracing efforts,” she said.
Members of the Metro Manila Council, composed of the 17 mayors in the National Capital Region, are reportedly set to meet on the situation in Pasay City.
COVID-19 cases had hit a plateau during the previous three to four weeks but this was interrupted by a spike in infections in the last two weeks, the DOH said.
De Guzman said the number of cases in the country from Feb. 14 to 27 was 13.72 percent higher than the figures from Jan. 31 to Feb. 13.
In contrast, the national case growth rate between Jan. 17 and 30 and Jan. 31 to Feb. 13 was only -4.37 percent.
De Guzman said the continued rise in cases could be seen in Metro Manila, Region 7 and the Cordillera Autonomous Region.
Infections in Metro Manila rose by 55.47 percent over the past two weeks, followed by a 49.66 percent case growth rate in Central Visayas and 11.83 percent growth in Cordillera.
Despite the uptick, De Guzman said the health care utilization rates in these regions remained in “the safe zone.”
Meanwhile, Dr. Edsel Salvana of the UP Manila-National Institute of Health said the new coronavirus variants from the UK and South Africa would account for only 2 percent of the COVID-19 infections in the Philippines.
“We should not panic. What we see is less than… about 2 percent to 3 percent only [of COVID-19 cases],” Salvana said during an online briefing.
“The new variants could be a factor, but it is not the main driver in the increase of cases” Salvana added, noting that the original coronavirus was still infectious.
Given the situation, Salvana said that it is important for the public to strictly observe minimum public health standards such as social distancing, frequent washing of hands, and wearing of face mask and face shield as the COVID-19 vaccination program gets underway.
The Philippines logged on Wednesday 1,783 new cases of COVID-19, bringing the total to 582,223, as seven laboratories were not able to submit their data on time, the DOH reported.
Twenty new fatalities brought the death toll to 12,389, which is 2.13 percent of the total.
The DOH also reported 330 newly recovered patients, in the government’s “mass recovery adjustment,” bringing the total recoveries to 534,778, which is 91.9 percent of the total.
Active cases reported were 35,056, which is 6 percent of the total cases. Of the active cases, 90.1 percent were mild; 4.7 percent were asymptomatic; 2.2 percent were critical; 2.2 percent were severe; and 0.84 percent were moderate.