December 31, 2021
MANILA, Philippines — An infectious disease expert on Thursday said the rapid increase in COVID-19 cases in the country was “alarming” as the independent pandemic monitor OCTA Research group warned that Metro Manila was now at “moderate risk” after the reproduction number of the coronavirus jumped to a “critical” rate.
The Department of Health (DOH) reported a 6.6-percent positivity rate on Thursday, above the World Health Organization’s 5-percent benchmark—the indicator that infection is under control.
For the first time in over a month, new COVID-19 cases soared to 1,623, nearly double the 889 cases recorded on Wednesday, and more than the 1,153 reported on Nov. 23.
“I would say it’s alarming because if you look at the trend, it quickly went up and this is something that we have to really closely monitor,” said Dr. Rontgene Solante, chief of the adult infectious diseases and tropical medicine unit of San Lazaro Hospital.
The increase in the number of cases can be attributed to holiday-related mobility and gatherings, he said in an interview with ANC.
The DOH reminded the public to adhere strictly to health protocols.
“With the newly reported cases doubling the past two days, the DOH enjoins everyone to do what is within our power to avoid making year 2022 another version of 2020. Let us act with utmost vigilance as if the highly transmissible Omicron variant is already here,” the DOH said.
It urged everyone to “reassess” plans for celebrating the New Year, saying that the “safest option” was to remain “in your family bubble.”
OCTA said that there was an increase in the risk classification for the National Capital Region (NCR) from very low risk (Dec. 16 to Dec. 22) to moderate risk (Dec. 23 to Dec. 29), based on the rise in reproduction number, positivity rate and number of reported cases.
It said on Twitter on Thursday that the reproduction number, or the average number of persons who could potentially be infected, increased from a “very low” 0.51 to 1.47, which is “considered critical.”
A reproduction number of less than 1 indicates that transmission is slowing down.
The seven-day positivity rate, or the proportion of people found infected among those tested for the virus, jumped to 3.86 percent from 0.69 percent the previous week, the group noted.
It added that NCR’s seven-day average in new daily cases increased from 79 to 215, while the average daily attack rate per 100,000 individuals also increased from a “very low” 0.56 to a “low” 1.52.OCTA Research fellow Dr. Guido David said healthcare utilization was still “very low,” increasing only slightly from 18 percent to 19 percent.
OCTA agreed with Solante that the increase in key COVID-19 data was not surprising because of the increased number of holiday gatherings.
“At this time, it is still uncertain if there will be a continued increase in the number of new COVID-19 cases, or if this number will drop back down once the holidays are over,” the group said.
“We need to prevent this increase in new cases in the NCR from becoming a surge of infections,” it said.
Concerned about the rising number of cases and the threat from Omicron, Malacañang announced on Thursday that all parts of the country would remain under alert level 2 until Jan. 15. Portions of the country were placed under Alert Level 2 starting November and this became nationwide by Dec. 3.
Businesses and officials support the retention of alert level 2 in January, saying it has allowed most businesses to increase their earnings to nearly pre-pandemic levels.
Alert level 2 allows businesses to operate at 50 percent to 80 percent of their indoor capacity and 70 percent to 100 percent of outdoor capacity.
The DOH reported 11,772 active cases as of Thursday and a total caseload of 2,841,260 since the start of the pandemic. The figure does not include data from two laboratories that did not operate on Dec. 28 and three other laboratories that failed to submit their test results.
Of the total active cases, 5,737 were mild, 577 asymptomatic, 3,315 moderate, 1,771 severe, and 372 critical.
The 6.6-percent positivity rate on Thursday was based on the 30,933 people tested on Dec. 28. Of the 1,623 new infections, 1,582 cases, or 97 percent, were recorded over the last two weeks. Metro Manila accounted for the biggest number (1,063), followed by Calabarzon and Central Luzon.
The 256 reported recoveries brought the total number of survivors of the severe respiratory disease to 2,778,115.
The 133 fatalities increased the death toll to 51,373. Only four, however, occurred this month, while the rest were recorded between July 2020 and November, and reported only on Thursday.
Solante, who is also a member of the government’s Vaccine Expert Panel, said more data was needed to determine whether the increase in the number of cases was Omicron variant-driven. “But I would say this is Delta,” he said.
Solante also agreed with OCTA’s projection that the number of cases may go up as high as 2,000 daily in the coming days.
The numbers followed “the same pattern we’ve been experiencing the past surge,” he said.
Solante said that while Omicron may not cause severe infections like Delta, it could still infect a highly vulnerable population, including the elderly and the immunocompromised. He added that another surge could again overwhelm the country’s healthcare facilities.