Delta overtaking other coronavirus variants

THE HIGHLY contagious Delta coronavirus may soon become the predominant variant in the Philippines, now accounting for almost half of tested samples, according to health officials.

“Nationally, based on submitted samples to us, about 42% of our total sequences are Delta,” Philippine Genome Center Executive Director Cynthia P. Saloma told an online news briefing in mixed English and Filipino on Monday

Half of the 338 samples recently sequenced were of the Delta type, Health Undersecretary Maria Rosario S. Vergeire told a separate news briefing.

“It looks like the proportion of Delta variant cases in our country are on the rise, based on this initial and very rough analysis,” she said in mixed English and Filipino.

The Delta variant “really has overtaken the other variants of concern” including the Alpha and Beta variants, Ms. Saloma said.

The last two batches of samples sequenced on Aug. 11 and 12 had 359 Delta cases, higher than 142 Alpha cases, 125 Beta cases and 54 cases of the P.3 variant, she added.

The Philippines has recorded 807 Delta variant cases.

Coronavirus infections are expected to increase in the coming weeks despite the lockdown, Ms. Vergeire said, noting that the strict quarantines imposed to contain the Delta variant would only yield results after two to three weeks.

The Department of Health (DoH) reported 14,610 coronavirus infections on Monday, bringing the total to 1.76 million.

The death toll rose to 30,366 after 27 more patients died, while recoveries increased by 10,674 to 1.62 million, it said in a bulletin.

There were 106,672 active cases, 96.1% of which were mild, 0.9% did not show symptoms, 1.3% were severe, 0.89% were moderate and 0.7% were critical.

DoH said 380 duplicates had been removed from the tally, 369 of which were tagged as recoveries and one was reclassified as death.

Three recoveries were reclassified as active cases, while 22 recoveries were tagged as deaths. Seven laboratories failed to submit data on Aug. 14.

Meanwhile, Ms. Vergeire said the country’s first recorded infection of the Lambda coronavirus variant was a local case.

The 35-year-old pregnant woman who tested positive for the coronavirus in July was a local case and not a returning Filipino migrant worker, she said.

The patient, who did not show symptoms and had since recovered, is from Western Visayas.

“We are closely coordinating with specific localities to know where this individual is,” she said.

The highly contagious variant that was first detected in Peru in December is believed to be more resistant to vaccines.

The Lambda variant may have spread across the country before being detected, Gene A. Nisperos, a board member of the Community Medicine Development Foundation, said in a Facebook Messenger chat.

The country is having a hard time detecting variant cases because of its limited sequencing capacity, he said.

“Only the Philippine Genome Center located in the University of the Philippines Diliman is currently doing genome sequencing and its capacity is around 750 per week,” he added.

Mr. Nisperos said the country’s limited testing capacity is partly to blame for the slow detection of variants of concern.

The testing capacity has been limited to 50,000 daily, far from the 150,000-200,000 needed to “capture where and how fast COVID-19 and its Delta variant are spreading,” he said. “Since early last year, the call for mass testing had been made but the government obstinately refused.”

“Worse, the bureaucracy of the government created a backlog due to a tedious validation process that they have not solved after more than a year,” Mr. Nisperos said.

Ms. Saloma last month said they needed P100 million for its satellite centers in the Visayas and Mindanao. Each needs at least P50 million to be able to sequence 50 samples weekly, she added.

The government would consider granting the center’s request for more funds, presidential spokesman Herminio L. Roque, Jr. told the briefing attended by Ms. Saloma.

In her virtual news briefing, Ms. Vergeire said the highly contagious Delta coronavirus variant had been detected in all regions of the country except the Caraga region in northern Philippines.

The Health department is assuming that the Delta variant is already present in all regions in the Philippines since the country’s sequencing capacity does not cover “that much of the population,” she said.

Metro Manila was placed under a two-week enhanced lockdown that started on Aug. 6.

Also on Monday, the OCTA Research Group said Metro Manila had an average of 3,262 new cases daily in the past seven days.

“This represents a 51% increase from the previous week’s average,” OCTA said in a report.

The group said Metro Manila reported 3,640 new cases on Aug. 15, lower than the numbers reported in the previous three days.

Metro Manila’s average daily attack rate was 23.36 daily for 100,000 people, OCTA said, noting that the capital region is under a high-risk classification.

The positivity rate in Metro Manila has increased to 20%. The region’s intensive care unit bed occupancy was 71%, while its hospital bed occupancy for coronavirus patients was 63%. — Kyle Aristophere T. Atienza