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Researchers predict another surge in COVID-19 infections

By Vann Marlo M. Villegas, Reporter

THE PHILIPPINES is likely to experience a fresh surge in coronavirus infections in the coming weeks after people violated social distancing rules during the holidays, according to researchers from the University of the Philippines (UP).

In a report, the OCTA Research Team also cited “super spreader events” such as the feast of the Black Nazarene, where people failed to practice minimum health standards.

The group urged the government to boost the capacity of the healthcare system, increase testing and contact tracing, continue building isolation facilities and bolster local governments’ ability to enforce community health programs and effective surveillance.

The state should also expedite orders for “safe and effective” coronavirus vaccines and ensure that these are rolled out efficiently. Medical and nonmedical frontliners should be prioritized for inoculation, they added.

“The government must also organize and urgently implement an education or information campaign to increase awareness and acceptance of the coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19)  vaccine,” the team said.

It said that the virus reproduction number in Metro Manila had increased past 1 to 1.17 as of Jan. 10, meaning an infected person can infect another person.

The last time it was above 1 was on Dec. 21 and had remained below that during the holiday season as testing was reduced by more than 40%.

OCTA Research also said a more contagious COVID-19 strain from the United Kingdom might already be in the country.

The number of new cases had increased to more than 400 as testing centers resumed normal operations, it said, citing data from the Health department. Cases in Metro Manila averaged 500 daily before the holidays.

“There is a clear upward trend now,” the researchers said. “If this upward trend continues, the local governments will need to implement measures to reverse this direction before the pandemic gets out of hand.”

The infection rate in the capital region was at 4% in the past week, below the 5% recommended by the World Health Organization (WHO).

In Metro manila, Quezon City reported the highest number of new cases per day in the past week, followed by Manila, Pasig, Parañaque and Marikina.

The Department of Health (DoH) reported 1,524 coronavirus infections on Tuesday, bringing the total to 491,258.

The death toll rose by 139 to 9,554, while recoveries increased by 44 to 458,172, it said in a bulletin. There were 23,532 active cases, 85.1% of which were mild, 5.5% did not show symptoms, 5.7% were critical, 3.2% were severe and 0.54% were moderate.

Davao City reported the highest number of new cases at 137, followed by Quezon City at 109, Rizal at 92, Davao del Norte at 53 and Cebu City at 51.

DoH said two duplicates had been removed from the tally and 78 recovered cases were reclassified as deaths. Six laboratories failed to submit their data on Jan. 11.

About 6.7 million people have been tested for COVID-19 in the Philippines as of Jan. 10, according to DoH’s tracker website.

The coronavirus has sickened about 91.4 million and killed about two million people worldwide, according to the Worldometers website, citing various sources including data from the World Health Organization (WHO).

About 65.4 million people have recovered, it said.

Meanwhile, health authorities said new coronavirus strains had not been detected in the Philippines.

“The Department of Health (DoH) and Philippine Genome Center (PGC), to date, have not detected the UK variant, or any new variant of SARS-COV-2 in any of the positive samples tested,” it said in a statement. The agencies are “closely working together in order to intensify ongoing biosurveillance efforts.”

DoH on Friday said it was monitoring the entry of new coronavirus variants from South Africa and Malaysia aside from the United Kingdom variant that is more contagious.

A 30-year-old Filipina domestic helper from Cagayan Valley Region in northern Philippines who arrived in Hong Kong last Dec. 22 tested positive for the UK variant on Jan. 2. Authorities have traced people she had contact with.

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