The Philippines on Friday reported its first 11 local cases of the more transmissible Delta coronavirus variant, two of which are in Metro Manila.
Health Undersecretary Maria Rosario Vergeire said 16 new Delta variant cases were detected in the latest genome sequencing run, composed of five returning overseas Filipinos (ROFs) and 11 local cases, bringing the total to 35.
Vergeire said that out of the 11 local cases, two were detected in Metro Manila. One of the two cases died after being rushed to the hospital on June 28. The other case has recovered from COVID-19 after falling ill on June 23.
Six other Delta variant cases were detected in Region 10 and are part of a “large cluster of cases” with dates on onset of illness ranging from June 23 to 28. All patients have recovered, Vergeire said.
One local case was tested for COVID-19 in Metro Manila but has an address in Region 3. The patient has also recovered after getting sick on June 27.
“All these cases have no known connection to each other,” Vergeire said.
The last two local cases were both detected in Region 6. They have also recovered from COVID-19 after falling ill on May 27.
Meanwhile, out of the five ROF cases, one arrived in the Philippines from the United Kingdom on April 26 and has been tagged as recovered after undergoing a 14-day quarantine.
Another two ROF cases arrived from Qatar on June 15 and have also recovered from COVID-19.
Vergeire said the DOH was still verifying the arrival date and quarantine status of the last two ROF cases.
The highly contagious Delta variant has spread to at least 98 countries since it was first detected in December 2020. Delta is also associated with double the risk of hospitalization compared to the Alpha variant first detected in the United Kingdom.
Vergeire said the 11 local Delta variant cases included two from Manila City, five from Cagayan de Oro, one from Misamis Oriental, two from Antique, and one from Pampanga.
DOH Epidemiology Bureau director Dr. Alethea De Guzman added that the local Delta cases included a 14-year-old and an 18-year-old but did not provide further information.
De Guzman said only one case has been verified to be fully vaccinated. Other cases were either unvaccinated or still undergoing verification.
Experts described the local Delta infections as “sporadic,” with De Guzman noting that no significant spike in cases has been observed in areas where the variant has been detected.
“Kung matatandaan natin, no’ng una nating na-detect ‘yung mga Alpha at Beta variants sa NCR, napaka-significant, napaka-steep ng increase,” she said.
(If you recall, when we first detected the Alpha and Beta variants in Metro Manila, there was a significant, steep increase.)
“Sa ngayon, may bahagyang pagtaas sa iilang lugar pero hindi pa ganoon kataas, kaya nasasabi nating possible na sporadic pa nga lang ito at ito ‘yung opportunity na ma-contain pa natin ‘yung further spread,” De Guzman added.
(Now, there is a slight increase in cases in some areas but it’s not that steep, which is why we’re saying it’s possible that the infections are sporadic and this is the opportunity for us to contain further spread.)
Vaccine czar Secretary Carlito Galvez Jr. said he would meet with various local authorities to discuss COVID-19 containment measures.
“We will visit the different surge areas in Mindanao, Visayas, and Luzon to personally assess the situation and deliver more vaccines,” he said.
Interior Undersecretary Epimaco Densing III also said local authorities were ordered to enhance contact tracing efforts and ensure transparency in reporting variant cases.
Despite the detection of local Delta variant cases, infectious disease expert Dr. Edsel Salvaña expressed optimism that Filipinos will still be able to enjoy a “happier Christmas” this year.
Salvaña and other DOH advisors urged the public to continue adhering to health protocols against COVID-19 and stressed that vaccines remain effective even against variants.
“If we use all the tools available to us—vaccines, public health standards, strict border control—we will still be on track to have a happier Christmas,” Salvaña said.
Alpha, Beta variant cases
Meanwhile, the DOH said hundreds of additional cases of the more transmissible Alpha and Beta variants have been detected in the latest genome sequencing run.
The DOH reported 264 more Alpha variant cases, 299 Beta variant cases, 16 Delta variant cases, and 55 cases of the P.3 variant first identified in the Philippines.
The newly reported infections bring the totals to 1,481 Alpha cases, 1,685 Beta cases, 35 Delta cases, and 221 P.3 cases. The number of Gamma variant cases remained at two.
The DOH said the Philippine Genome Center has sequenced 8,557 samples to date, 3,424 of which tested positive for a variant of the coronavirus.
No mask-free Christmas
Health Secretary Francisco Duque III, meanwhile, said Filipinos should not yet expect a mask-free Christmas due to the scarce vaccine supply.
"Mukhang made-delay 'yun. 'Wag muna nating asahan 'yan kasi mafu-frustrate lang tayo na umaasa tayo. Pinaaasa natin ang taumbayan eh hindi naman natin kontrolado ang supply," he told Super Radyo dzBB.
(It looks like that's going to be delayed. Let's not get our hopes up because we'll only get frustrated. We don't have control over the supply.) —KBK/RSJ, GMA News