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DoH: Waning immunity may spur severe infections

PHILIPPINE STAR/ EDD GUMBAN

By Alyssa Nicole O. Tan, Reporter

MORE Filipinos are expected to suffer from severe and critical coronavirus infections by August amid lax health protocols, slow booster uptake and the entry of more contagious Omicron variants, according to the Department of Health (DoH).

“There will be a rise in hospitalizations by August — about 4,800, which is much more than the projected hospitalizations when we encountered the Delta variant,” Health Undersecretary Maria Rosario S. Vergeire told an online news briefing in mixed English and Filipino on Wednesday.

“These are projections, these are not cast in stone,” she said. “These projections are made so that we can prepare and be guided in our preparations and our planning.”

An inter-agency task force has recommended that Metro Manila and most areas of the country be kept under Alert Level 1, presidential spokesman Martin M. Andanar said in a statement.

Ms. Vergeire traced Filipinos’ waning coronavirus immunity to the entry of more contagious Omicron variants. Booster shots would increase one’s immunity to the virus, she added.

The Health department has said 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.

Only immunocompromised people, senior citizens and health workers can get their second booster shot. About 580,000 of them have been injected with their fourth vaccine shot.

Meanwhile, DoH said it has detected six more people with the BA.5 Omicron subvariant, two of whom came from the National Capital Region and one each from Ilocos, Cagayan Valley, Western Visayas and Northern Mindanao.

Two had mild symptoms, while the others were still being verified. Five of them have recovered, while one was still under home quarantine.

The agency also said 10 more people had been infected with the BA.2.12.1 Omicron subvariant, four of whom came from the capital region, two from Calabarzon, and one each from Ilocos, Cagayan Valley, Bicol and Western Visayas.

Two had mild symptoms, three did have any symptoms, while the others were still being verified. Eight of them have recovered, one remained active, while the other was still being verified.

Ms. Vergeire said Congress should extend the state of national calamity, which will end on Sept. 12 after being extended twice.

She said emergency use authorizations for coronavirus vaccines and drugs against the disease, emergency procurement, tax exemptions, price control and the benefits of health workers could be affected once the law lapses.

“All of these must first be arranged by the government before we can recommend the lifting of the country’s state of emergency,” she said. “The incoming administration will have that authority to decide.”

The country needs to stay under a state of calamity since infections could still rise as more variants are detected, Ms. Vergeire said.

Daily COVID-19 infections in the Philippine capital and nearby cities could hit as many as 500 by the end of the month, Fredegusto P. David, a fellow from the OCTA Research Group, said on Tuesday.

Coronavirus cases in Metro Manila have surpassed the 10% weekly increase seen recently, he added, while its positivity rate has climbed to 2.7%, with the virus’ reproduction number increasing to 1.59.

On June 13, the capital region had the most infections at 188.

The DoH recommended the use of face masks until the end of the year to ensure protection from not only COVID-19, but also other diseases.

“The mask did not only protect us against COVID-19,” Ms. Vergeire said. “It also protected us from other respiratory infections, even with this monkeypox. We can be protected from monkeypox by just wearing a mask.“

People should remove masks only when or exercising, she added.

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