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Daily virus cases may hit 500 by end-June — OCTA


DAILY coronavirus infections in the Philippine capital and nearby cities could hit as many as 500 by the end of the month, according to a local research group.

Coronavirus cases in Metro Manila have surpassed the 10% weekly increase seen recently, Fredegusto P. David, a fellow from the OCTA Research Group, told a televised news briefing on Tuesday.

The positivity rate in Metro Manila has climbed to 2.7%, while the virus reproduction number has increased to 1.59, he added.

“We’re seeing a continuous rise in cases and it’s faster in Metro Manila,” Mr. David said. “We had 188 cases yesterday… Our projection is by the end of June, we could reach 400 to 500.”

He added that as of June 13, the capital region had the most infections at 188.

The Philippines last year veered away from wide-scale coronavirus restrictions and started enforcing localized lockdowns.

Metro Manila, an economic powerhouse that is home to more than 13 million people, is under the first and most relaxed level in a five-tier alert system, which is being updated every 15 days.

The government could place the capital region under a stricter lockdown if coronavirus infections continue to go up, health authorities said on Monday.

Stricter quarantine restrictions would only be enforced if a potential surge leads to increased hospital admissions, Health Undersecretary Maria Rosario S. Vergeire said.

“Let’s hold off the return to on-site work,” Mr. David said. “Companies should reconsider this so we can cut the capacity in offices.”

He also urged the government to enforce health protocols to protect students who will start physically attending school this school year. People should continue wearing face masks and observe minimum health standards, he added.

He said the weekly average cases in the region rose by more than half to 131 from 86.

“At this time, we are still at low risk in Metro Manila, but by next week, we are projecting that we would be at moderate risk,” Mr. David said. “For now, our current situation does not call for escalating the alert level status.”

“We cannot afford another COVID-19 surge right now,” Senator-elect Jose P. Ejercito, Jr. said in a statement. “Another COVID surge or worse, wide-scale lockdown would certainly hamper our economic recovery. “

The Philippines posted 308 cases on June 12, the highest in nearly two months. The country reported 365 new infections on April 20.

Authorities traced the recent increase in coronavirus infections to new Omicron subvariants, namely BA.2.12.1, BA.4 and BA.5.

The BA.5 drove infections in South Africa in May, according to the World Health Organization.

The Health department has noted that while BA.5 is highly infectious, it does not cause severe and critical disease. It said the rising infections have not exhausted the country’s health system.

As health experts worry that the country might again face an infection surge, pro-market policymakers have begun lobbying for the rejection of any additional virus restrictions.

“Lockdowns at this late stage of the pandemic, especially now that people have learned to live with it, would be counterproductive both health-wise and economy-wise,” Albay Rep. Jose Maria Clemente S. Salceda, who heads the ways and means committee at the House of Representatives, said in a statement.

“An alert level will have very marginal, if any, COVID-mitigating effects,” he said. “But it will cost working families, especially in the informal and self-employed sectors, gravely.”

Some health experts have been calling on the government to reconsider state efforts to allow more schools to hold physical classes this year.

The Philippines’ trade chief Ramon M. Lopez has doubted the possibility that Metro Manila would be placed under a stricter alert level.

“We have already learned by now that mild COVID-19 cases and low intensive care unit utilization rates should not lead to escalating the alert level. We need to sustain economic recovery.”

The Philippines posted 1,682 coronavirus infections on June 6 to 12, 30% higher than a week earlier, according to a Health department bulletin released on Monday. Five more people died.

Of the total, only 8 or less than 1% were critical, it said.

The agency said 345 or 16.6% of 2,078 intensive care unit (ICU) beds had been used as of June 12, while 3,188 or 20.3% of 15,706 non-ICU beds were occupied.

It added that 498 severe and critical coronavirus patients or 11.3% of total admissions were staying in hospitals.

The Health department told reporters in a Viber message 69.8 million people or 78% of the target population had been fully vaccinated against the coronavirus as of June 13, while 14.56 million people have received booster shots.

It said minimum health standards including the use of fake masks and state vaccination efforts “have helped keep our COVID-19 case counts low despite the detection of new subvariants.”

Also on Tuesday the presidential palace said the national requirement for people to wear face masks even outside prevails over local government rules, including the one issued by Cebu Governor Gwendolyn F. Garcia.

“The Chief Executive’s directive is clear: Continue wearing face masks,” presidential spokesman Martin M. Andanar said in a statement.

The Department of Interior and Local Government had ordered the police to enforce the protocol, he added. Ms. Garcia earlier issued an order making face masks optional outdoors. —  Kyle Aristophere T. Atienza and Norman P. Aquino

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