The Department of Health on Sunday confirmed the country's first case of the COVID-19 Lambda variant, a “variant of interest” which is supposed to be more transmissible and vaccine-resistant than other strains.
The DOH said the case was a 35-year-old female but said it has not determined if she is a returning overseas Filipino. She was asymptomatic and has already recovered after undergoing the 10-day isolation period, the department said.
Meanwhile, the DOH reported 14,749 new COVID-19 cases on Sunday, the second highest number since the pandemic started last year. The highest incidence was registered on April 2, at 15,310 cases.
It was the second straight day with over 14,000 new cases.
This developed as the independent OCTA Research Group said the number of cases is expected to rise next week as the lockdown may not be that effective or the Delta variant is becoming dominant.
Guido David, OCTA Research fellow, said the National Capital Region's reproduction rate was at 1.90.
"The COVID-19 transmission is almost one-is-to-two in the NCR," Guido said.
Guido also said the country’s coronavirus reproduction number, which refers to the number of people that each COVID-19 case can infect, has gone up to 1.46 this past week.
This was for August 8 to 14, the group said, when the country had an average of 11,000 new COVID-19 cases per day.
The Lambda variant, first detected in Peru last year, is more infectious than the original coronavirus strain emerging from Wuhan, China, and is more resistant to COVID-19 vaccines.
Also, there were 270 new fatalities Sunday, bringing the COVID-19 death toll to 30,340. It was the third consecutive day with more than 200 new deaths reported.
Total active cases in the country again breached 100,000 on Sunday, after nearly four months below that level. There were 102,748 active cases, or 5.9 percent of the country's total caseload.
Recoveries were up by 10,720, bringing total recoveries to 1,608,528.
Interviewed on Super Radyo dzBB, Dr. Rontgene Solante, chairman of the Adult Infectious Diseases and Tropical Medicine unit of the San Lazaro Hospital, said Lambda variant's mutations are similar to the Delta variant first detected in India.
The Lambda variant was classified as a variant of interest by the World Health Organization on June 14.
The WHO identifies a coronavirus variant as a "variant of interest" (VOI) if, among other criteria, it "has been identified to cause community transmission…or has been detected in multiple countries."
A variant of interest becomes a "variant of concern" (VOC) when it is associated with an "increase in transmissibility or detrimental change in COVID-19 epidemiology; [an] increase in virulence or change in clinical disease presentation; or [a] decrease in effectiveness of public health and social measures or available diagnostics, vaccines, therapeutics."
Solante said the Lambda variant could be more transmissible and become resistant to vaccines like what has been seen from Delta and Alpha, which are already variants of concern.
“We don't have a lot of data yet on the Lambda variant because the countries that have experienced it are South American countries—Peru, Argentina—and it is one of the variants that is being monitored as it may become a variant of concern,” he said.
"I believe this could cause death among people with low immune responses. It may be more transmissible too,” the doctor added.
Solante urged the public to get vaccinated and strictly follow health protocols.
"The approach is the same. We must protect ourselves. We have to be careful,” he said.
The number of Delta variant cases rose to 807 as 182 more infections were detected.
Of the additional 182 Delta variant cases, 112 are local cases, 36 are returning overseas Filipinos and 34 cases are currently being verified.
Of the 112 local cases, 42 cases had indicated addresses in the National Capital Region, while 36 cases were from Central Luzon.
Other areas with Delta cases were Calabarzon (eight), Mimaropa (six), Northern Mindanao (six), Central Visayas (four), Davao Region (three), Caraga (three), Western Visayas (two), Cordillera Administrative Region (one) and Bangsamoro Autonomous Region of Muslim Mindanao (one).
One case is still active, 176 cases have been tagged as recovered, four cases have died, and one case has an outcome that is being verified.
In other developments:
• The Philippine General Hospital said most children recover from COVID-19 even if they become severely or critically ill. The country's largest COVID-19 referral center has eight virus patients occupying its 12-bed pediatric ward, with four more patients waiting to be admitted, said Dr. Jonas del Rosario, PGH spokesman. The patients' ages range from a few days old up to 15 years old, he said.
• PGH will temporarily stop accepting sick people who are not infected with COVID-19. The hospital has 262 virus patients out of its 250 bed capacity but has added 50 more beds to its COVID-19 ward, Del Rosario said.
• Vice President Leni Robredo said poor contact tracing would limit the number of tests being conducted to detect the virus. In her weekly radio program, Robredo said the country's positivity rate as of Aug. 14 was 24.9 percent, which is higher than the international standard of less than 5 percent. Even if tests are available, as long as contact tracing remains weak, the country's line-up for tests is insufficient because it is not testing enough, she said.