Health authorities warned of a possible surge in virus infections after detecting 16 new cases of the more transmissible Delta variant of COVID-19, including the first eleven local cases.
Five of the 16 news cases of the more virulent strain were Filipinos returning from overseas.
Eleven cases were classified as local cases. Six were detected in Region 10 and are part of a large cluster of cases, with dates of onset between June 23 and 28. All have been tagged as recovered.
Two cases were detected in the National Capital Region (NCR). One case died after being taken to the emergency room of a hospital on June 28. The other is an outpatient with an onset date of June 23, who was tagged as recovered. One other case, an outpatient with an onset date of June 27 and was also tagged as recovered, was initially tested in the National Capital Region but has an indicative address in Region 3. All these cases have no known connection to each other.
The last two local cases were detected in Region 6, both with an onset date of May 27. Both have also been tagged as recovered.
The Department of Health (DOH) said it was coordinating closely with the Centers for Health Development and local government units to ensure that all cases have been traced and managed. The Bureau of Quarantine and the Department of Transportation are on high alert to implement strict border control measures.
“The DOH underscores that with our 4-door strategy, we have delayed the entry of the Delta variant with the activation of Doors 1 and 2. Now that the country has detected local cases of the Delta variant, Doors 3 and 4 are being activated. Door 3 would involve strengthening the implementation of the PDITR (Prevention, Detection, Isolation, Treatment, and Reintegration) strategies while Door 4 is ensuring that our health care capacity is ready for a possible surge,” the DOH said in a statement Friday.
The DOH also reminded the public that the spread of COVID-19 globally, while being controlled by vaccination, is still being driven by the emergence of variants of concern, increased social mobility, and inappropriate use of public health measures.
“Even while we are vaccinating the Filipino people, minimum public health measures such as physical distancing and masking should not be neglected,” the DOH said.
Dr. Alethea de Guzman of the DOH Epidemiology Bureau said that although local cases have been detected, the department still needs to establish evidence and case links before declaring that there is local transmission of the Delta variant.
Vaccine czar and chief implementer of the National Task Force (NTF) Against COVID-19, Secretary Carlito Galvez Jr. said the Philippines is “well prepared” against the highly transmissible Delta variant.
“We have seen after an outbreak in India that we have to prepare everything on a large scale,” Galvez said in Filipino.
“We already have an SOP [standard operating procedure] if we encounter these variants of concern. We were called to an emergency conference by the SOH [Secretary of Health] and we were instructed to go… to the local government units (LGUs),” he added.
To ensure that the health care capacity of LGUs is sufficient, Galvez said officials from NTF will visit Region 10, most especially Cagayan de Oro, where there is a cluster of the Delta variant cases.
“We will [meet] with Region 10 LGUs to prepare them and contain the area. We will intensify contact tracing, testing, and immediate isolation of possible persons of interest,” Galvez said.
“CDO is becoming a concern of interest because we are not seeing a decrease in the number of cases due to the presence of different variants.”
Deputy Speaker and Cagayan de Oro Rep. Rufus Rodriguez had urged the Inter-Agency Task Force for the Management of Infectious Diseases (IATF) to immediately send a team to Cagayan de Oro.
Earlier Friday, the IATF placed CDO, along with Gingoog City, Iloilo City, and Iloilo Province, under Enhanced Community Quarantine (ECQ), the strictest quarantine status in the Philippines.
“It is beyond alarming to note that the five cases of Delta variant, the highest so far in any city or province, have been detected in Cagayan de Oro. Of the total 11 local Delta variant cases in the Philippines detected today, five are from CDO,” Rodriguez said.
The Delta variant, also known as B.1.617.2, can spread more easily, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Rodriguez said research says that it has mutations on the spike protein that make it easier for it to infect human cells. “This means that people may be more contagious if they contract the virus and more easily spread it to others,” he said.
In Quezon City, Mayor Joy Belmonte ordered the creation of a Delta variant task force to prepare for a possible resurgence of COVID-19.
She said the task force has identified key areas to concentrate on, including revisiting the city’s disease surveillance, active case finding and contact tracing capacity; its testing capability and the efficiency of its molecular laboratory in processing specimens; reviewing its isolation and quarantine protocols and the status and bed capacity of its HOPE facilities, and assessing equipment and manpower resources of hospitals handling moderate to severe cases.
Vice President Leni Robredo said the arrival of the Delta variant was alarming, and urged the government to speed up its vaccination efforts and the public to observe standard health protocols.
Also on Friday, the DOH said hundreds of additional cases of the more transmissible Alpha and Beta variants were detected in the latest genome sequencing run.
The DOH reported 264 more Alpha variant cases, 299 Beta variant cases, 16 Delta variant cases, and 55 cases of the P.3 variant first identified in the Philippines.
The newly reported infections bring the totals to 1,481 Alpha cases, 1,685 Beta cases, 35 Delta cases, and 221 P.3 cases. The number of Gamma variant cases remained at two.
The DOH said the Philippine Genome Center has sequenced 8,557 samples to date, 3,424 of which tested positive for a variant of the coronavirus.
Meanwhile, the government has revised the list of more than 50 “green” countries that have a low risk for the coronavirus and said travelers from these countries who were fully vaccinated would undergo more relaxed testing and quarantine protocols.
At least 11 states and jurisdictions, namely Azerbaijan, Barbados, Bermuda, Comoros, Curacao, Dominica, Gabon, Liechtenstein, Mali, North Macedonia, and Romania, have been added to the list.
Among those removed from the list are Belize, Burundi, Liberia, Malawi, Morocco, Mozambique, Sierra Leone, Senegal, and Zimbabwe.
The task force earlier issued health guidelines for vaccinated travelers, including allowing shorter quarantine protocol for persons vaccinated abroad who stayed in these “green” countries.
The United States, which is still battling coronavirus outbreak, is still not included in the list of green states.
The revised green list released by the Philippine government includes:
Albania, American Samoa, Anguilla, Antigua and Barbuda, Australia, Azerbaijan, Barbados, Benin, Bermuda, The British Virgin Islands, Brunei, Burkina Faso, Cayman Islands, Chad, China, Comoros, Cote d’ Ivoire (Ivory Coast), Curacao, Dominica, Eswatini, Falkland Islands, French Polynesia, Gabon, Gambia, Ghana, Greenland, Grenada, Hong Kong, Iceland, Isle of Man, Israel, Laos, Liechtenstein, Mali, Malta, Marshall Islands, Mauritius, Federated States of Micronesia, Montserrat, New Caledonia, New Zealand, Niger, Nigeria, North Macedonia, Northern Mariana Islands, Palau, Romania, Saba (Special Municipality of the Kingdom of Netherlands), Saint Barthelemy, Saint Pierre and Miquelon, Singapore, Sint Eustatius, South Korea, Taiwan, Togo, Turks and Caicos Islands (UK), and Vietnam.
The IATF said passengers vaccinated abroad must undergo a seven-day quarantine at a facility upon arrival in the Philippines, instead of the 10-day facility-based quarantine and four days in their place of destination. They must also take a swab COVID test on the fifth day of facility-based quarantine.
Should the swab test yield a negative result, the individual must complete the seven-day facility-based quarantine. If found positive, he or she shall follow the prescribed isolation protocols.
The Philippines logged 5,676 new COVID-19 cases on Friday, bringing the total number of infections to 1,496,328.
There were 162 new fatalities Friday, bringing the COVID-19 death toll to 26,476.
The DOH also reported 2,670 persons recently recovered from the respiratory disease, bringing the total recoveries to 1,421,372.
Active cases were reported at 48,480, of which 91.8 percent were mild, 2.1 percent were asymptomatic, 1.6 percent were critical, 2.6 percent were severe, and 1.85 percent were moderate.