The “Delta plus” coronavirus variant discovered in India contains an additional mutation in the spike protein, which it uses to invade cells, the executive director of the University of the Philippines’ National Institutes of Health said Wednesday.
The mutation, Dr. Eva Maria Cutiongco-de la Paz said, can affect how the virus will latch on to enter cells.
Three other mutations increase the ability of the coronavirus to enter human cells and spread, as well as escape from neutralizing antibodies.
India on Tuesday reported nearly two dozen Delta plus variant cases in three states and classified it as a variant of concern. Health officials in India said Delta plus showed increased transmissibility and advised states to increase testing.
In Sydney, people were largely banned from leaving the city Wednesday as Australian authorities rushed to stop a growing outbreak of Delta variant from spreading to other regions.
More than 30 people have been diagnosed with COVID-19 since the cluster emerged in the city’s Bondi Beach area last week, the latest in a string of flare-ups that highlight Australia’s difficulty in extinguishing outbreaks.
In Portugal, the government warned a fourth wave of the coronavirus pandemic may take hold with the Delta variant now accounting for more than 60 percent of new cases in the capital.
The Philippines has so far detected 17 cases of the original Delta variant, all in Filipinos returning from abroad.
At an online press conference Wednesday, De la Paz said the Delta variant is “the fastest and fittest coronavirus strain yet.”
The more transmissible variant has been detected in 85 countries and already accounts for more than 91 percent of COVID-19 cases in the United Kingdom.
De la Paz also said the Delta variant manifests different symptoms compared to the original coronavirus that came out of Wuhan, China.
“More younger people are infected and they are more likely not to self-isolate, mistaking symptoms for a bad cold,” she said.
She called for more stringent border controls to buy the country time to bolster its COVID-19 response.
The Department of Health (DOH), meanwhile, said Metro Manila is now considered a low risk for COVID-19 as infections continue to go down.
On the other hand, the DOH flagged four regions—Caraga, Western Visayas, Davao Region and Soccsksargen--where rising cases have led to high hospital occupancy rates.
“For these areas, the downward trend of cases is not consistent.,” said DOH Epidemiology Bureau director Dr. Alethea De Guzman.
“We’re reviewing as to the case detection strategy which may explain why there are peaks and troughs in their case data,” she said.
“The goal now is to push it down even further so that we reach our pre-ECQ (enhanced community quarantine) levels of less than 500 [cases],” De Guzman said.
She said Metro Manila is “exhibiting a slow decline after a plateau” with the growth rate dropping 23 percent in the last two weeks.
While Metro Manila still has 8,405 active COVID-19 cases, its average daily attack rate has dropped to 5.70 from 7.43, she said.
The NCR averaged 685 new cases daily from June 16 to 22. This is lower than its average of 825 daily new cases over June 9 to 15.a
“Laguna is the lone NCR plus 8 area that has yet to show a decline in cases,” she said, noting that the Calabarzon province is still “exhibiting a plateau” in COVID-19 cases.
The Philippines logged 4,353 new COVID-19 cases Wednesday, bringing the total number of infections to 1,372,232, as six laboratories were not able to submit their data on time, the DOH said.
The DOH reported 119 new fatalities, bringing the COVID-19 death toll to 23,928.
The DOH also reported 7,139 patients who recovered, bringing the total recoveries to 1,298,442.
There were 49,862 active cases, of which 90.4 percent were mild, 4.5 percent were asymptomatic, 1.5 percent were critical, 2.1 percent were severe, and 1.49 percent were moderate.
Meanwhile, the Palace said 10 areas experiencing surges in COVID-19 cases are now part of the government’s top priority for vaccine distribution.
The priority areas were previously limited to “NCR Plus 8,” including Metro Manila, Metro Cebu, Metro Davao, Bulacan, Batangas, Cavite, Laguna, Pampanga, and Rizal.
But President Rodrigo Duterte has ordered an “equitable distribution” of the vaccines, said presidential spokesman Harry Roque, who did not identify the 10 areas.
In other developments:
* The Metropolitan Manila Development Authority said it is confident that the majority of people in the National Capital Region will be protected against COVID-19 before the end of the year. Citing daily reports data from local government units, MMDA Chairman Benjamin Abalos said about 3.6 million of Metro Manila’s population of about 14 million have already been vaccinated -- 2.8 million received the first dose while 877,958 received the second dose, as of June 22. He added Metro Manila posts an average of 114,000 jabs a day at present. “The numbers are encouraging; the pace of the vaccination is increasing,” he said.
* Senator Christopher Go said the country is expecting another 4 million doses of COVID-19 vaccines from June, for a total of 149 million doses from different sources until the end of the year.
* Vaccine czar Secretary Carlito Galvez said the delivery of 50,000 doses of Sputnik V vaccines that was expected this month has been moved to a later date.
* The Cebu Pacific Air announced on Wednesday it has already flown over 1.5 million COVID-19 vaccines to 15 provinces since March 2021, with Cebu and Roxas as its new destinations. With PNA