Two COVID-19 referral hospitals in Metro Manila said on Sunday that they are prepared for the possibility of a surge in infections due to the emergence of the more contagious Omicron variant.
The Philippine General Hospital (PGH) and Lung Center of the Philippines are ready to convert non-COVID wards into facilities catering to patients of the respiratory disease, in the event that the number of COVID-19 cases starts to rise again, hospital officials said.
“Just like in past surges, we'll open the COVID wards, close the non-COVID wards and realign manpower. We're used to those kinds of operations so the transition will be fast,” Dr. Jonas del Rosario, spokesman of the Manila-based PGH, told ABS-CBN's TeleRadyo.
The PGH currently has 325 COVID-19 beds, although only 63 are occupied, Del Rosario said.
The hospital's emergency room remains overwhelmed due to a rise in non-COVID patients.
Del Rosario appealed to the public to avoid going to the PGH emergency room unless the patient is suffering from a "life-threatening emergency."
“Those cases which aren't life threatening can go to other hospitals,” he said.
Del Rosario added that the hospital is in need of doctors, nurses and medical technicians after several staff members resigned to work overseas.
Lung Center spokesman Dr. Norberto Francisco said the hospital has an "advanced strategy plan" in case the number of COVID-19 patients begins to increase.
He said the plan covers all aspects, including personnel,equipment and the use of space, in case a surge occurs again.
“We've experienced a number of surges last year and we've learned to convert non-COVID to COVID wards,” he said.
Francisco urged non-COVID patients to take advantage of the drop in virus cases in the hospital and proceed with their medical checkups.
"Now is the time to go to the hospital," he said.
Aside from PGH and Lung Center, private hospitals are also preparing for a possible spike in COVID-19 cases due to the new variant.
The World Health Organization (WHO) said preliminary evidence on Omicron suggested that the variant could spread more readily than earlier COVID-19 strains.
Despite this, the independent OCTA Research Group said the chances of experiencing a surge is "much smaller than before," noting the high vaccination rate in Metro Manila and major cities.
"If Omicron lands at Ninoy Aquino International Airport, it will struggle to spread because everybody in Manila is vaccinated," OCTA fellow Fr. Nicanor Austriaco told ABS-CBN's TeleRadyo.
More than 37.3 million people in the Philippines have been fully vaccinated against COVID-19, accounting for 48.4 percent of the government's target of 77.1 million.
Over 55.4 million others have received their initial dose, while more than 421,000 booster doses have been administered.
The Philippines logged 603 new COVID-19 cases on Sunday, bringing the country’s total number of cases to 2,834,775.
“Of the 156 reported deaths, only 12 occurred in December 2021; 36 percent of the reported deaths today occurred in November 2021 due to late encoding of death information to COVIDKaya. This issue is currently being coordinated with the Epidemiology and Surveillance Units to ensure information is up to date,” the Department of Health (DOH) said.
The death toll from COVID-19 rose to 49,386 as a result of the new reported fatalities.
The DOH reported 1,047 new recoveries, pushing the total number of Filipinos who recovered from the disease to 2,771,536.
There were 13,853 active cases. Of this figure, 1,270 are asymptomatic, 5,532 mild, 3,903 moderate, 2,410 severe, and 738 critical.
The COVID-19 positivity rate was at 1.8 percent of 35,950 tests conducted on Dec. 3.
Nationwide, 26 percent of ICU beds, 25 percent of isolation beds, 14 percent of ward beds, and 14 percent of ventilators, were in use.
In Metro Manila, 28 percent of ICU beds, 22 percent of isolation beds, 20 percent of ward beds, and 17 percent of ventilators, were in use.
The Bureau of Quarantine said Sunday that most travelers who entered the Philippines from Omicron-affected countries such as South Africa are still under quarantine and have not shown COVID-19 symptoms, so far.