The Department of Health said Thursday there was not enough data to support the three Chinese tourists who visited the Philippines early this year were responsible for the spread of COVID-19 in the country.
The DOH made the statement as it reported 3,249 new infections on Thursday, bringing the total to 205,581 cases of COVID-19 in the country.
The DOH reported Metro Manila still logged the highest number of new cases at 1,584, followed by Cavite with 147, Laguna with 143, Negros Occidental with 140, and Batangas with 123.
Eighty percent or 2,607 of the latest infections contracted COVID-19 in the past 14 days.
The remaining 68,357 are active cases undergoing treatment or quarantine, 91.3 percent of which are mild, 6.6 percent are asymptomatic, 0.8 percent are severe, and 1.2 percent are in critical condition.
Meanwhile, total recoveries rose to 133,990 after 566 more patients recovered from the respiratory illness, according to DOH COVID-19 Case Bulletin #166.
The death toll climbed to 3,234 with 97 new fatalities, 40 of whom died in August, 51 in July, five in June, and one in April.
Of the 97 deaths, 40 occurred in August (41 percent), 51 in July (53 percent) 5 in June (5 percent) and 1 in April (1 percent).
Deaths were from NCR (63 or 65 percent), Region 4A (15 or 15 percent), Region 9 (7 or 7 percent), Region 7 (5 or 5 percent), Region 3 (3 or 3 percent), Repatriates (2 or 2 percent), Region 6 (1 or 1 percent), and Region 11 (1 or 1 percent).
The DOH said figures reported on Monday were based on data submitted by 98 out of the 110 operational laboratories. It also removed 29 duplicate cases from the total tally of infections.
There were 29 duplicates that were removed from the total case count. Of these, 12 recovered cases have been removed.
Moreover, there 24 cases that were previously reported as recovered but after final validation, they were deaths.
These numbers undergo constant cleaning and validation.
As of August 26, the Philippines had 110 licensed laboratories that had tested over 2.2 million individuals, while 50 percent of COVID-19 intensive care unit beds nationwide were occupied and 29 percent of mechanical ventilators were in use.
Experts earlier projected that the easing of quarantine restrictions might lead to 250,000 cases by the end of August.
DOH Undersecretary Maria Rosario Vergeire, during an online forum, urged caution in interpreting the recent findings of the state-run Research Institute for Tropical Medicine (RITM), which identified two major SARS-CoV-2 lineages that originated in China, lineages A and B, and six other sub-lineages each from samples collected in Metro Manila, Ilocos Sur, Rizal, Laguna and Bohol.
“Because the sample is still small and the area [where it was done] is limited, it is not conclusive yet for us to have an accurate conclusion,” Vergeire said.
The first COVID-19 cases in the country — the three Chinese tourists — were recorded in January, but community transmission only started in March, prompting the government to impose border lockdowns and suspend non-essential work to prevent mass gathering and subsequently, prevent virus transmission.
The varying lockdowns brought about by quarantine protocols have already left around 27 million people unemployed, a recent Social Weather Stations survey said.
Meanwhile, the Bureau of Immigration said 78 of its rank and file employees were infected by COVID-19.
BI Commissioner Jaime Morente also disclosed that, of the 78 employees who contracted the virus, 29 had recovered and only one was admitted to the hospital.
He added 44 employees who also tested positive for the virus but are asymptomatic or have mild symptoms are currently housed in quarantine facilities while awaiting recovery or undergoing treatment.
“We are still fortunate that none of our workers have succumbed to this virus,” Morente said.
Dr. Marites Ambray, BI Medical Section Chief, also reported that there were 76 other employees who were earlier asked to undergo isolation and home quarantine after being identified as probable COVID-19 cases for having exposure to persons infected by the virus.
Ambray said 58 of these suspected COVID-19 carriers were already cleared and allowed to return to work while the 18 others are still under home quarantine.
Due to the increasing number of COVID-19 cases in the BI, the Bureau’s Administrative Division recently issued a directive on the mandatory wearing of face shields (aside from face masks) by all officials and employees when reporting for work in their respective offices.
Employees who do not wear both face mask and face shield will not be allowed to work and will be sent home, the directive states.
It was also learned that due to the daily ingress and egress of a large number of people transacting business at the Bureau’s main office in Intramuros, Manila, the said building has been undergoing regular disinfection since July as a preventive measure against the virus.
The BI earlier suspended its services for walk-in clients by launching an online appointment system to prevent congestion in its offices, and achieve physical distancing among its employees and the transacting public.
In a related development, the Department of Labor and Employment on Thursday said the remains of 72 more overseas Filipino workers who perished in Saudi Arabia amid the pandemic would be flown home today.
A chartered flight of the Philippine Airlines will arrive at the Ninoy Aquino International Airport carrying the bodies of 62 OFWs who died of COVID, and 10 others who perished from other causes.
Labor Secretary Silvestre Bello III said the bodies represent the fourth batch of dead OFWs covered by the repatriation program of the labor department through the Overseas Workers Welfare Administration and the Philippine Overseas Labor Offices in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia.
The first three batches involving the remains of 192 migrant workers were brought home by the government on separate occasions last month, Bello said.
The labor chief said top government officials would be on hand in welcoming home the bodies of the country’s modern day heroes on Friday.
“We are ready for their arrival,” Bello said. “We will continue to bring home our heroes whatever it takes,” he added.
Bello said of the 72 remains, 40 are from Al Khobar, 17 from Jeddah and 15 from Riyadh. This brings to 264 the total repatriated human remains of OFWs from Saudi Arabia.