Declining Covid-19 cases no reason to relax protocols in Philippines: Expert

Dr Rontgene Solante has warned the recent findings of 139 cases of the BA.5 subvariant out of 147 Covid-19 Omicron variant cases, could reverse the declining trend.

Dona Z. Pazzibugan and Jerome Aning

Dona Z. Pazzibugan and Jerome Aning

Philippine Daily Inquirer


Vendors and customers wearing face masks for protection against the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) are seen inside a public market in Quezon City, Metro Manila, Philippines, Feb. 5, 2021. (REUTERS/Eloisa Lopez)

August 30, 2022

MANILA, Philippines — The declining number of COVID-19 cases in the country is no reason to relax health protocols, because infections from the Omicron subvariant BA.5 continue to be reported, an infectious disease expert said on Monday.

“What we see here is that there is a downtrend compared to last week. But if you notice, the downtrend is so slow. So what does this indicate? This indicates that there is still ongoing community transmission,” Dr. Rontgene Solante said at Monday’s Laging Handa briefing.

He also said “we cannot really say that we are off in terms of we can already relax our health protocols.”

Solante said recent findings of 139 cases of the BA.5 subvariant out of 147 COVID-19 Omicron variant cases could reverse the declining trend.

“BA.5 has been with us for almost four to six weeks now in the Philippines, and it’s the dominant variant globally. Most countries are reporting this, with 70 to 75 percent of their positive cases. And this is expected in BA.5 because this is the most evasive subvariant of the Omicron, particularly for those who were vaccinated,” he said.

He emphasized that being vaccinated was not enough protection against catching the more transmissible Omicron subvariants, so it is still “very important” to comply with health protocols.

DOH projection
Solante also noted that the projection by the Department of Health (DOH) of as many as 9,000 daily cases by the end of September could not be ruled out, considering the return of students to campuses with the new school year.

“Yes, I fully agree with that [projection]. Because we can see that with this BA.5, [our COVID-19 cases] are taking a long time to decrease. So there is also a possibility that [the case count] will rise again, especially since mobility will increase and there will be more different forms of gatherings,” he said.

The BA.5 subvariant has other “descendants” that are more transmissible such as BA.5.1 and BA.5.2, Solante pointed out.

Its mutations indicate that the Omicron “variant will be here for a longer period of time since most of [us] are vulnerable,” he added.

But 90 percent of BA.5 cases have mostly been mild cases, particularly among the younger populations, Solante said.

“However, we can’t say these for the elderly and the immunocompromised because they are the people [who are] highly vulnerable,” he said further.

He cited the latest statistics from the World Health Organization which showed the Philippines as having the most COVID-19 deaths after Japan and Australia—with many of the fatalities among the vulnerable populations of the elderly and people with comorbidities.

The increase in coronavirus cases may lead to higher hospitalization particularly involving those high-risk groups, Solante said, as he urged people to get more booster shots.

Deaths up
Daily COVID-19 cases went down for the second straight week while deaths continued to climb, the DOH reported on Monday.

Over the past week, the average daily detected new cases went down to 2,752, which is 19 percent lower than the 3,412 average daily cases the previous week.

The DOH said 110 of the 19,262 cases detected last week were severely or critically ill.

The department also reported that 316 more people had died of COVID-19, but this was slightly lower than the 321 deaths reported last week which was the highest weekly death toll in four months.

The DOH said 113 more deaths occurred in August, while the rest were from July this year to as far back as June last year.

This brought the official COVID-19 death toll to 61,667 out of 3.87 million confirmed cases.

Meanwhile, hospital bed occupancy has further improved.

The DOH said 24.9 percent of COVID-19 intensive care unit (ICU) beds are in use, compared with 27 percent last week.

Compared with 30.2 percent last week, 28.1 percent of non-ICU beds are currently occupied.

Pandemic monitoring group OCTA Research said that if the reproduction and positivity rates continue their decline, “current trends project less than 1,000 new cases per day by mid-September and 500 daily by end of September,” although this contradicted the projections of the DOH.

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