WHO notes PH health system up to task amid record spikes in cases
The Philippines on Wednesday logged 208,164 active cases—its highest since the pandemic began, but the World Health Organization (WHO) said there was no need as yet to raise the alert level in the National Capital Region (NCR).
Wednesday’s count of active cases was the highest since the previous record of 203,710 on April 17, 2021.
Of the 208,164 active cases Wednesday, 6,435 were asymptomatic; 197,091 werenmild; 2,872 were moderate; 1,468 were severe; and 298 were critical.
The Department of Health (DOH) reported 32,246 new COVID-19 cases, bringing the total number of cases to 3,058,634.
The positivity rate was at 45.7 percent, based on test results of samples from 63,903 people on Jan. 10.
The top regions with cases in the recent two weeks were National Capital Region (Metro Manila) with 17,902 or 56 percent, Region 4-A (Calabarzon) with 6,838 or 22 percent, and Region 3 (Central Luzon) with 3,268 or 10 percent.
There were 144 new fatalities, bringing the COVID-19 death toll to 52,654.
The DOH also reported 5,063 new recoveries, bringing the total recoveries to 2,797,816.
Nationwide, 43 percent of ICU beds, 45 percent of isolation beds, 43 percent of ward beds, and 18 percent of ventilators, were in use.
In Metro Manila, 56 percent of ICU beds, 55 percent of isolation beds, 67 percent of ward beds, and 24 percent of ventilators, were in use.
Meanwhile, the country representative of the World Health Organization, Dr. Rabindra Abeyasinghe, said the current Alert Level 3 imposed by the government in the NCR may be adequate as the country’s health care system would be able to manage the surge of infections.
With the surge in cases especially in the NCR, the government is expected to decide within the week whether to retain the current Alert Level 3 or tighten it to Alert Level 4 from Jan. 16 to 31.
In an online briefing, Abeyasinghe explained that having overwhelmed health care systems is one of the factors considered by authorities in the implementation of stringent restrictions over any region in the country.
“Right now, we don’t see that. Projections are that the Philippines may be able to avert that even if current trends continue until about the end of this month,” he said. “The red line analysis that we have done projects that we can manage the health systems to about the 27 [or] 28 of January.”
The WHO official echoed an earlier Palace argument that the utilization of the health care system has yet to breach the moderate risk level of 71 percent, thus the absence of the need to escalate the alert level in Metro Manila, which is the epicenter of the COVID-19 pandemic in the country.
Also on Wednesday, the Palace announced that 28 more cities and provinces will be elevated to a higher Alert Level 3 from Jan. 14 to 31.
Acting presidential spokesman Karlo Nograles said the Inter-Agency Task Force for the Management of Emerging Infectious Diseases (IATF) decided to raise these cities and provinces to Alert Level 3 amid the rise of COVID-19 cases in the country.
In Luzon, the cities and provinces under Alert Level 3 are: Benguet, Kalinga and Abra in Cordillera Administrative Region (CAR); La Union, Ilocos Norte and Pangasinan in Region 1 (Ilocos); Nueva Vizcaya, Isabela and Quirino in Region 2 (Cagayan Valley); Nueva Ecija and Tarlac in Region 3 (Central Luzon); Quezon Province in Region 4-A (Calabarzon); Occidental Mindoro and Oriental Mindoro in Region 4-B (Mimaropa); and Camarines Sur and Albay in Region 5 (Bicol).
Cities and provinces under Alert Level 3 in Visayas are: Bacolod City, Aklan, Capiz and Antique in Region 6 (Western Visayas); Cebu City and Mandaue City in Region 7 (Central Visayas); and Tacloban City in Region 8 (Eastern Visayas).
In Mindanao, cities and provinces under Alert Level 3 are: Cagayan de Oro City in Region 10 (Northern Mindanao); Davao City in Region 11 (Davao); Butuan City and Agusan del Sur in Caraga; and Cotabato City in Bangsamoro Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (BARMM).
All other provinces and cities not mentioned shall remain under their current alert level classification.
On Jan. 6, the IATF also raised the following cities and provinces to Alert Level 3: Baguio City (CAR), Dagupan City (Ilocos Region); City of Santiago and Cagayan (Cagayan Valley); Angeles City, Bataan, Olongapo City, Pampanga, and Zambales (Central Luzon); Batangas and Lucena City (Calabarzon); Naga City (Bicol); Iloilo City in (Western Visayas); and Lapu-lapu City (Central Visayas).
The National Capital Region (NCR) Plus, composed of Metro Manila and the nearby provinces of Bulacan, Cavite, Laguna, and Rizal, is also under Alert Level 3.
The Department of the Interior and Local Government (DILG) said 97 areas in Metro Manila are under a granular lockdown, affecting some 102 families or about 463 people.
Meanwhile, Health Secretary Francisco Duque III said a slight decline in new cases Tuesday did not mean the ongoing surge has peaked.
The lower count, he added, was due to low testing output over the weekend, and that the country could still be in the acceleration phase of the surge.
Duque also confirmed a spike in COVID-19 infections in regions outside Metro Manila.
Duque urged local officials to intensify the vaccination process in their respective areas, adding that the health and safety protocols must always be followed.
Infectious disease expert Dr. Rontgene Solante of San Lazaro Hospital, meanwhile, said the rise or fall of the number of cases is always dependent on the number of the vulnerable population.
In the case of the National Capital Region (NCR) where the bulk of infections were reported, he said that the vaccination rate is high.
Metropolitan Manila Development Authority (MMDA) chairperson Benhur Abalos said Monday that as of Jan. 8, 10,534,251 or 107.49 percent of people in NCR have been fully vaccinated against COVID-19. Meanwhile, 11,185,801 or 114.14 percent received their first dose and 924,593 received the booster shots.
Considering also that those who have Omicron develop “less severe” symptoms with some manifesting only within five days, Solante said that this surge of new COVID-19 cases might then take less time.
Solante said his analysis was based on the situation in South Africa, where the Omicron variant was first detected in November.
On Dec. 30, 2021, South Africa said that its latest coronavirus wave had likely passed its peak without a significant increase in deaths and thus its restrictions would already be eased.
Solante noted that most of the data showed that the Omicron variant typically presents mild symptoms especially if one is fully vaccinated, more so if one received a booster shot.
However, unvaccinated individuals are still susceptible to severe symptoms which may require hospitalization or death, he added.
“If most of the cases are only mild, then you only have a shorter duration of the symptoms. Chances are there will be a faster decrease in the number of cases also,” Solante said.