If the Delta variant of the coronavirus first detected in India does not spread locally, the National Capital Region (NCR) and eight other key economic hubs—known as NCR Plus 8—will achieve herd immunity against COVID-19 by Christmas, independent researchers tracking the pandemic said Sunday.
The country has reported 17 cases of the Delta variant, including one death, but so far there is no community transmission, said molecular biologist Nicanor Austriaco, a member of the OCTA Research Group.
The government, meanwhile, has administered 8.9 million COVID-19 vaccine doses as of June 22, with 2,246,897 people fully vaccinated, out of a target of 58 million.
"Given the numbers, our hope that we will reach herd immunity in NCR Plus 8 by Christmas is reasonable. This does not take into effect the Delta variant," Austriaco told ABS-CBN's TeleRadyo.
"The best vaccine is the vaccine offered to you today. Any protection is better than no protection,” he said.
The country also has to prepare against a possible Delta variant surge as it has been observed that there is a rise in COVID-19 cases when new variants arrive, Austriaco said.
Elsewhere, Moscow on Sunday recorded the worst daily coronavirus death toll so far for a Russian city, as countries across the Asia-Pacificregion extended or reimposed restrictions to tackle fresh waves of infections.
The Russian capital on Sunday recorded 144 Covid-19 deaths in the last 24 hours, a day after Saint Petersburg set the previous highest figure.
The pandemic has now killed close to four million people across the world, but vaccination drives have brought down infection numbers inmany wealthy countries, though the Delta strain of the virus remains a concern.
The variant is now in 85 countries and is the most contagious of any COVID-19 strain identified, according to the World Health Organization.
Still, in much of Europe and the United States curbs on daily life are easing as vaccination programs bear fruit, although Russia isgrappling with a deadly third wave.
The Delta variant is also feeding fresh outbreaks in Southeast Asia and Australia where authorities have brought back or prolongedrestrictions.
The Department of Health (DOH) said it aims to vaccinate at least 108,000 people a day in Metro Manila, Batangas, Bulacan, Cavite, Laguna, Pampanga, Rizal, Metro Cebu and Metro Davao as more shots arrive.
It identified 10 more areas that are experiencing rise in COVID-19 infections, namely, Cagayan de Oro, Bacolod, Baguio, Zamboanga, Dumaguete, Tuguegarao, General Santos, Naga, Legazpi, and Iloilo City, that will be included in the COVID-19 vaccination priority.
The Philippines logged 6,096 new COVID-19 cases on Sunday, raising the country's total tally to 1,397,992 infections, the DOH said.
Sunday was the fourth straight day when more than 6,000 new cases were reported.
The COVID-19 death toll, meanwhile, rose to 24,372 with 128 new fatalities.
Total recoveries climbed to 1,321,050 after 6,912 more people recovered from the disease.
The DOH said the new infections brought the number of active cases to 52,570, of which 89.5 percent were mild, 5.6 percent were asymptomatic, 1.4 percent were critical, 2 percent were severe, and 1.48 percent were moderate.
DOH data showed 57 percent of the country's intensive care unit (ICU) beds, 47 percent of the isolation beds, 44 percent of the ward beds, and 37 percent of the ventilators were in use.
In Metro Manila, 45 percent of the ICU beds, 39 percent of the isolation beds, 32 percent of the ward beds, and 32 percent of theventilators were in use.
Amid calls to ease quarantine restrictions, treatment czar and Health Undersecretary Leopoldo Vega on Sunday urged the public not to be complacent, as there was a threat from the more contagious Delta variant of the coronavirus.
“We are not out of the woods yet. There is a gradual decrease of cases but only slowly and we also have a variant of concern, the Delta variant. This is not yet in the local setting, but we are monitoring this. We shouldn't be caught off guard. Let's not be complacent,” Vega told Dobol B TV.
Vega also noted that some areas in Visayas and Mindanao recorded an increase in COVID-19 cases while cities in Metro Manila are reporting a gradual decline in infections.
To address health care concerns in provinces outside Metro Manila, Vega said they are distributing medical equipment to hospitals in Visayas and Mindanao.
“WHO donated mechanical ventilators to us. The government procured such equipment as well. Some private organizations also donated BiPAP machines. We also send these to high-risk areas,” he said.
An earlier report from OCTA Research Group showed that Davao City, Bacolod, Iloilo City, Cagayan de Oro and Tacloban were areas of concern as active cases continue to grow there.
OCTA also reported that cases in Metro Manila dropped to an average of 700 new cases per day from June 15 to June 21.
Metro Manila and Bulacan are under general community quarantine "with some restrictions" until June 30. Rizal, Laguna, and Cavite are under GCQ but with heightened restrictions.
Other areas in the country are either under the strict modified enhanced community quarantine or a modified GCQ.
In other developments:
• The director for the Genomics Health Program of the Philippine Genome Center on Sunday expressed hope that companies manufacturing Sinovac and Sputnik V jabs would release data on the efficacy of their vaccines against the Delta variant. Dr. Eva Maria Dela Paz said she was hopeful that Sinovac and Sputnik V could present studies and data as there are only a few studies concerning the effectiveness of COVID-19 vaccines against the Delta variant. Efficacy trials against the Delta variant are still ongoing for companies, such as Moderna, Sinovac, Sinopharm and Johnson & Johnson.
• Senator Christopher Go renewed his appeal to the public to remain vigilant against COVID-19 and to observe the necessary health protocols to prevent its spread. With Macon Ramos-Araneta
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