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Manila scrambles to test travelers for Omicron


THE PHILIPPINES is now at minimal risk classification from the coronavirus, health authorities said on Monday, as the country tests more inbound travelers to prevent an outbreak of a new variant first detected in South Africa.

The number of new coronavirus cases nationwide has declined significantly in the recent week, Health Undersecretary Maria Rosario S. Vergeire told a televised news briefing.

The country had an average of 544 cases daily from Nov. 29 to Dec. 5, which was 42% lower than the 941 daily cases recorded a week earlier, she said.

“Looking at the epidemic curve of our major island groups and the NCR (National Capital Region) Plus areas, majority of areas have been on a plateau since the start of November while the rest of Luzon showed signs of plateauing in the case trend in the recent week,” she said.

Ms. Vergeire said the country recorded a -57% two-week growth rate and a low-risk average daily attack rate of .67 per 100,000 people.

“Nationally, we remain at minimal risk case classification.”

The national health system’s capacity is at low risk and all regions are now at minimal to low risk classification, she said.

The Department of Health reported 543 new coronavirus infections on Monday, bringing the total to 2.84 million.

The death toll hit 49,499 after 113 more patients died, while recoveries increased by 830 to 2.77 million, it said.

There were 13,548 active cases, 1,063 of which did not show symptoms, 5,545 were mild, 3,898 were moderate, 2,366 were severe, and 676 were critical.

It said 26% of intensive care units in the Philippines were occupied, while the rate for Metro Manila was 29%.

Twenty-one percent of the 113 reported deaths occurred in November, the agency said.

The Health department said 12 duplicates were removed from the tally, 10 of which were reclassified as recoveries, while 102 recoveries were relisted as deaths. It added that 152 patients had tested negative and were from the tally.

Two laboratories did not operate on Dec. 4, while five laboratories failed to submit data.

The Philippines has already tightened border controls to prevent an outbreak of the Omicron variant, which has a large number of mutations. More than 40 countries have already reported cases of the new variant first detected in South Africa.

Ms. Vergeire said the Omicron variant, which experts said could pose a greater threat than the Delta strain, was not found in the 629 samples recently checked by the Philippine Genome Center.

The highly contagious Delta variant is still the dominant coronavirus strain in the Philippines, she said.

The country now has 7,848 cases of the Delta variant after 571 more people got infected with the virus first detected in India based on the recent sequencing of 629 samples, she said.

Ms. Vergeire said one more Filipino had been infected with the Alpha variant first detected in the United Kingdom, bringing the total to 3,168.

The country now has 3,630 cases of the Beta variant after one more person got infected with the virus, also first detected in South Africa, she added. Of the 629 samples sequenced, 55 had no lineages.

The latest sequencing brought the total of sequenced samples with assigned lineages to 19,305.

Ms. Vergeire said samples from a COVID19-positive traveler from South Africa and 11 returning Filipinos were undergoing genomic sequencing. The results are expected by Wednesday.

Meanwhile, the country’s capacity for biosurveillance and genome sequencing needs improvement, a senator said.

“The faster our health authorities will be able to detect, identify and track these cases with the new variants of COVID, including Omicron, the higher our chances of preventing its transmission in our shores and in sustaining our efforts to revive the economy,” Senator Juan Edgardo M. Angara said in a statement on Monday.

“What is more critical now is our ability to detect these new variants and to come up with the necessary precautions with haste,” he added, citing the Health department’s earlier reports that some areas were having difficulty in submitting samples for genome sequencing due to transportation issues and lack of laboratories. — Kyle Kristophere T. Atienza and Alyssa Nicole O. Tan

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