The most aggressive Delta variant of Covid-19, detected in the Philippines in mid-July, has spread across much of the country, reaching 13 of 17 regions, health officials said.
On Sunday, the Philippines reported a sharp increase in daily Covid deaths, with 287 deaths, the highest daily increase in four months. Another 9,671 new infections were also confirmed.
The national capital region of Manila, home to nearly 14 million people, was blocked last week in an attempt to stem the spread of the Delta variant.
The variant has led to a record number of cases in Southeast Asian countries and the Philippines are feared to see a similar increase. The country’s cases had declined after a severe outbreak four months ago, but Covid transmission has started to increase.
“We saw a decrease from our peak of cases in the first week of April, but from mid-July the cases began to slowly increase again,” said Deputy Secretary of the Department of Health, Maria Rosette Vergeire, on Monday. The cases are likely to increase further, he added, as it would take two to three weeks for the recently imposed restrictions to affect the number of cases.
Vergeire said there had been a nearly 50% increase in cases nationwide over the past fortnight, compared to the previous two weeks, and that the Covid situation in the country was considered “high risk.” The increase in cases was most marked in Metro Manila, which is made up of 16 cities, all of which have detected cases from the Delta.
The restrictions imposed on Friday in the national capital region will last until August 20 and are set at the strictest level used by Philippine authorities. Only authorized people, including those who buy food, travel for medical reasons or front-line workers, can go abroad.
The day before the blockade was introduced, thousands rushed to vaccination centers and queued for hours in hopes of being hit. Rumors had spread that unvaccinated people would not be allowed to claim government help or leave, according to local media.
The president, Rodrigo Duterte, previously threatened to arrest people who were not vaccinated and recently warned that unvaccinated people would not be allowed to leave their homes. However, a person’s vaccination status does not affect the restrictions they face when locked up. About 10% of the population has been fully vaccinated.
The Delta variant has spread rapidly across Southeast Asia, including in countries that avoided the worst of the pandemic last year. The outbreaks have put intense pressure on health systems and forced governments to reintroduce lockdown measures in the worst affected areas. Indonesia, Thailand, Malaysia and Vietnam have reported record cases in recent weeks.
The Philippines has recorded more than 29,100 deaths since the start of the pandemic, one of the highest death toll in Southeast Asia.
George is Digismak’s reported cum editor with 13 years of experience in Journalism