Health Secretary Francisco Duque III on Wednesday said he will recommend stricter border controls after the highly contagious Indian variant of COVID-19 was detected in the Philippines.
The Indian variant (B.1.617) is believed to be more contagious than the original COVID-19 virus. It was detected in two returning Filipino workers from the Middle East.
“I will recommend that certainly,” Duque said when asked in an interview on ANC Headstart if he would recommend stricter border controls.
Duque said he would “seek the counsel” of the World Health Organization’s (WHO) representative to the country whether it is necessary to broaden the travel ban to all territories with reported cases of the Indian coronavirus variant.
The government earlier announced a ban on arrivals from India, Bangladesh, Pakistan, Nepal and Sri Lanka until May 14 to prevent the entry of the Indian variant.
It also covered those who had been to these countries within 14 days immediately before arrival in the Philippines.
The infected Filipinos were from Oman and the United Arab Emirates, Health Undersecretary Maria Rosario Vergeire said.
Duque said both cases were quarantined and “have completely recovered.” He said one case was asymptomatic, while the other showed symptoms a day after arriving in the country.
“It’s impossible that they have exposed others without our authorities knowing,” he said.
An infectious disease specialist warned Wednesday that the Indian varian could spread more easily.
“Based on reports coming out of India, it’s the predominant isolate that they have right now. Also, it seems to be that they are documenting increased transmissibility with this particular variant, which is perhaps why the WHO (World Health Organization) has included it as one of the variants of global concern,” Dr. Anna Ong-Lim said in an interview with ANC.
The WHO also tagged the mutation as being of global concern, with some preliminary studies showing that it transmits more easily than the original coronavirus.
Health officials said on Wednesday that they were verifying the COVID-19 test results of 13 co-passengers of a seafarer tested positive for the B.1.617 coronavirus variant first detected in India.
The Philippines logged on Wednesday 4,842 new COVID-19 cases, bringing total infections to 1,118,359.
Ninety-four new fatalities brought the COVID-19 death toll to 18,714, which was 1.67 percent of total cases.
The department also reported 8,312 persons had recently recovered from the disease, bringing the total number of recoveries to 1,046,431, which was 93.6 percent of the total.
That left 53,214 active cases, which is 4.8 percent of the total. Of the active cases, 93 percent were mild; 2.4 percent were asymptomatic; 1.4 percent were critical; 1.9 were severe; and 1.23 percent were moderate.
Wednesday’s active cases were the lowest in nearly two months or since March 15.
The Department of Health (DOH) noted that the day’s relatively low number of fresh cases was due to the “low testing output” from accredited laboratories on Monday.
Based on the latest bulletin, 33,529 samples were received by testing laboratories on the day, 12.5 percent of which were found positive for the virus.
The DOH also reported that, nationwide, 61 percent of the ICU beds, 44 percent of the isolation beds, 50 percent of the ward beds, and 42 percent of the ventilators, were in use.
In Metro Manila, 66 percent of the ICU beds, 46 percent of isolation beds, 50 percent of ward beds, and 48 percent of ventilators, were being used.
The OCTA Research Group, which has been tracking the pandemic, said the number of daily cases from May 5 to 11 had dropped 16 percent from the previous week.
OCTA said the country has reported a 7-day average of 6,522 with a reproduction number of 0.81.
A reproduction number of 1.00 or higher is an indication of the continuous transmission of the virus.
“The most current 7-day average of daily average of new COVID-19 cases in the Philippines is 6,522, which is 16% lower compared to the previous week,” OCTA said in its latest report.
However, OCTA noted a surge in COVID-19 cases in Zamboanga, which topped the list of areas outside the National Capital Region with the highest number of infections.
Also on Wednesday, Senator Chrisopher Go urged the public not to panic because the government was doing everything to address the presence of the Indian variant. With Macon Ramos-Araneta