Researchers tracking the COVID-19 pandemic urged the government on Wednesday to enforce a mandatory quarantine period for returning Filipinos following the discovery of a coronavirus variant in France that cannot be detected in PCR tests.
French authorities in mid-March said they were investigating a new coronavirus variant found in the western Brittany region that was more difficult for tests to detect, though for now it does not appear to be more dangerous or contagious.
“There’s a new variant that cannot be detected by PCR test...this means we need to put in place international travel protocols,” said Guido David of the OCTA Research Group.
David said the government should also intensify its contact tracing and scale up its COVID-19 testing.
“Returning Filipinos or tourists must undergo a mandatory quarantine period because this variant cannot be detected by PCR,” he said in Filipino.
OCTA has projected a decrease in the number of new COVID-19 cases in Metro Manila “sometime next week” after the National Capital Region was placed under modified enhanced community quarantine (MECQ).
“Unfortunately, hospitals at full capacity will be a problem for a while because the decline of cases in NCR is not yet significant,” David said.
David said if the country’s vaccination program is accelerated, it will also hasten the decline of COVID-19 cases.
“Based on our simulations, if we vaccinate 1 million people, the reproduction number will go down by 0.1.,” he said. “If we vaccinate 2 million, we can flatten or decrease the trend in NCR.”
The Philippines began its immunization program against coronavirus last month and has administered 1.2 million doses of COVID-19 vaccines as of Tuesday morning.
But the Department of Health (DOH) on Wednesday reported an increase in COVID-19 cases in five regions.
Health Undersecretary Maria Rosario Vergeire said that aside from Metro Manila, cases were also increasing in the Ilocos Region, Cagayan Valley, Central Luzon, Calabarzon, and the Cordillera Region.
“When the NCR Plus bubble policy was implemented, we also saw cases increase in other areas,” she said in Filipino.
Health Undersecretary Leopoldo Vega added that the rise in cases in those regions have also increased hospital occupancy.
The Philippines logged on Wednesday 8,122 new COVID-19 cases, bringing the total to 892,880, as 12 laboratories failed to submit their data on time, the DOH reported.
The Health department said Wednesday’s relatively low number of cases was a result of the low testing output of laboratories on Monday, April 12.
The DOH reported 162 new fatalities, bringing the COVID-19 death toll to 15,447, which is 1.73 percent of the total.
The DOH also reported that 501 persons recently recovered, bringing the total recoveries to 704,386, which is 78.9 percent of the total.
That left 173,047 active cases, which is 19.4 percent of the total.
The OCTA Research Group earlier said that the case fatality rate due to COVID-19 in the National Capital Region has increased almost three times higher to 5.36 percent in the past two weeks.
It said the increase in case fatality rate may be due to the overwhelmed health care system and the presence of more lethal coronavirus variants.
Vergeire on Wednesday said the government must ramp up measures against COVID-19 as another surge is possible.
On Tuesday, vaccine czar Carlito Galvez Jr. warned of another surge in cases in June or July.
“We have to qualify the statement of Secretary Galvez. He was just trying to say that there might be this possibility of another surge in the coming months if we are not going to continuously comply with the protocols and if we are not going to be able to contain the spread of this virus,” Vergeire said in an interview with CNN Philippines.
Vergeire said the government must prepare for another surge in a couple of months or even towards the end of the year.
“We don’t know (when the next surge will be) because nothing is certain right now. What we really need to do is to ramp up our efforts so that these surges will not happen again,” Vergeire said.
Of the active cases, 96.3 percent were mild; 2.4 percent were asymptomatic; 0.4 percent were critical; 0.5 percent were severe; and 0.31 percent were moderate.
The DOH said, nationwide, 68 percent of the ICU beds were in use; 50 percent of the isolation beds were in use; 55 percent of the ward beds were in use; and 47 percent of the ventilators were in use.
In Metro Manila, 88 percent of the ICU beds were in use; 65 percent of the isolation beds were in use; 65 percent of the ward beds were in use; and 63 percent of the ventilators were in use.