The Department of Health confirmed there is already a local transmission of the Delta variant in the country.
“Clusters of Delta variant cases were seen to be linked to other local cases, therefore, exhibiting local transmission,” the DOH said in a statement issued late Thursday evening.
The DOH said the confirmation came after the “phylogenetic analysis” conducted by the Philippine Genome Center as well as the department’s own Epidemiology Bureau.
Earlier in the day, independent researchers tracking the COVID-19 pandemic said there may already be community transmission of the more transmissible Delta variant due to the rise in infections in Metro Manila.
The DOH and the UP-Philippine Genome Center on Thursday reported 12 more local cases of the Delta variant detected -- six in Region III, two in Calabarzon, one in Region V, and three in the NCR.
All cases have been tagged as recovered but their outcomes are being validated. The latest tally brings the total of known Delta variant cases to 47.
“There’s a suspicion that the Delta variant is already involved,” Guido David of the OCTA Research Group said in Filipino in an interview on ABS-CBN’s Teleradyo.
He added that the number of new cases may reach 10,000 in the coming weeks with the entry of the highly contagious Delta variant.
So far, the DOH has reported only three cases of the Delta variant in Metro Manila.
“We have to assume the worst so we can prepare,” David said.
The OCTA group urged the Inter-Agency Task Force for the Management of Emerging Infectious Diseases (IATF) to contemplate a stricter quarantine status or reimposing more restrictions in Metro Manila.
The OCTA group also said local government units must gear up for intense contact tracing following the detection of the Delta variant.
Fully-vaccinated individuals will “help mitigate” the situation in the event of an increase in cases, David said.
“We hope the government would re-prioritize the National Capital Region and Cebu City because virus cases in regions outside NCR are declining or at least stable,” he said.
Implementing an NCR Plus Bubble to keep out the virus might be too late if there is already local transmission of the variant, but it might protect nearby provinces, he added.
David said the COVID-19 reproduction number in the NCR has increased to 1.15, indicating sustained transmission of the coronavirus.
“The reproduction number refers to the number of people that one COVID-19 case can infect. If it is more than one, it means the patient is infecting more than one person,” David said.
Nicanor Austriaco, a molecular biologist, said one Delta variant case can infect five to eight other people.
“For LGUs, I cannot emphasize that the contact tracing will be intense,” he said at a Palace briefing.
This, he said, would be the key to battling the Delta variant.
Meanwhile, the Philippine College of Physicians (PCP) said hospitals have begun seeing a fresh increase in COVID-19 cases.
PCP president Dr. Maricar Limpin, in an interview on radio dzBB, said this was based on an increasing number of patients going to COVID-19 emergency rooms.
“We have been feeling the rise in cases, especially since the latter part of last week, when we started to notice that cases were increasing. Even until this week, cases are slightly higher,” Limpin said.
Limpin also noted that infections are increasing even among health workers.
“Eventually, once cases get too high and our health care workers are also affected… we will be understaffed again but as usual we will respond to that,” she said.
Limpin also emphasized the need to prepare respiratory equipment and supplies like ventilators and oxygen tanks, especially in far-flung areas.
She attributed the increase in cases to relaxed border controls, decreased adherence to health protocols, especially in public transportation, and the detection of the Delta variant.
Upon the release of sequencing results, immediate contact tracing, quarantine, and RT-PCR retesting were done on all Delta variant cases and their close contacts. Third generation contact tracing was also initiated. Eight Delta variant cases who returned positive on the re-swab were placed in isolation and their contacts remained in quarantine.
“With the detection of additional cases, it is crucial that we implement an enhanced response immediately in the areas where these cases were detected and their contiguous LGUs as well as areas with case spikes with the premise that there may be ongoing local transmission already,” the DOH said in a statement.
Of the additional 187 Alpha variant cases detected, 179 were local cases and eight are currently being verified if they were local or Filipinos returning from overseas. Based on the case line list, 54 cases have died while 133 have been tagged as recovered.
This brings the total Alpha variant cases to 1,668.
Of the additional 142 Beta variant cases, 134 were local cases and eight cases are currently being verified if they are local or from returning overseas Filipinos cases. Based on the case line list, 21 have died and 121 have recovered.
The number of Beta variant cases now totals 1,827.
“With the detection of local cases with the Delta variant and other variants of concern, the public must strictly adhere to the minimum public health standards and continue to avoid enclosed spaces and mass gatherings,” the DOH said.
“Continued implementation of the PDITR (Prevent-Detect-Isolate-Treat-Reintegrate) strategies and localized lockdowns, active case detection, contact tracing, completion of isolation or quarantine, and increased vaccination of the priority groups are necessary to control the further transmission of COVID-19 and its variants.
“The local government units are also requested to increase their samples for whole genome sequencing especially in areas with identified spikes of cases and clustering,” the DOH said.
The Philippines logged 5,828 new COVID-19 cases on Thursday, bringing the total number of infections to 1,530,266
Seventeen new fatalities brought the COVID-19 death toll to 26,891.
The DOH reported 3,257 new recoveries, bringing the total recoveries to 1,452,813.
Active cases were logged at 50,562, of which 92.7 percent were mild, 1.6 percent were asymptomatic, 1.5 percent were critical, 2.5 percent were severe, and 1.74 percent were moderate.
Nationwide, 54 percent of the ICU beds, 47 percent of the isolation beds, 43 percent of the ward beds, and 37 percent of the ventilators, were in use.
In Metro Manila, 44 percent of the ICU beds, 40 percent of the isolation beds, 34 percent of the ward beds, and 33 percent of the ventilators, were in use.
Also on Thursday, Cagayan de Oro City Rep. Rufus Rodriguez said an IATF team led by Health Secretary Francisco Duque III, chief implementor Secretary Carlito Galvez, and National Task Force against COVID-19 chairman and Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana was in his city to check on the spike in infections.
“Their visit is timely since we have Delta variant cases in Cagayan de Oro. They can advise city officials and local health authorities on what to do to stop the spread of this variant and COVID-19,” Rodriguez told reporters.
Quoting the DOH, he said four of the five Delta variant-infected persons in Cagayan de Oro, who had previously recovered from the infection, have tested positive again, along with one from Misamis Oriental.
“Five of the eight reinfections are from our area. That shows the severity of the situation there, which has prompted the IATF to impose the strictest quarantine restriction in Cagayan de Oro,” he said.
The visit of the IATF team was in response to the request of Rodriguez, who has also asked for more vaccines for his city.