The Department of Health (DOH) on Wednesday reported the first two deaths from the highly infectious Omicron variant of the coronavirus, which health authorities believe to be the cause of the current surge in cases.
One of the fatalities is from the National Capital Region (NCR) and the other is from Central Luzon, but both were over 60 years old, unvaccinated, and had preexisting medical conditions, the DOH said.
“While Omicron mostly presents with asymptomatic and mild disease, our data shows that those most at risk for fatalities are still the elderly and those with comorbidities and unvaccinated,” it said in a statement.
“With the high transmissibility of the Omicron variant and the increasing number of COVID-19 cases, the DOH urges the public to follow protective health protocols and adhere to minimum public health standards,” the DOH said.
The health department said the two, whose personal details were not disclosed, were among nearly 500 new Omicron cases detected by the Philippine Genome Center (PGC).
On Tuesday, Dr. Alethea de Guzman, director of the Epidemiology Bureau of the DOH, said the more transmissible Omicron variant was now the “predominant variant” in NCR and had been detected in 13 of the country’s 17 regions.
The DOH said the new Omicron cases were in addition to 43 that had so far been known since the variant entered the country in December last year, raising its total number of cases to 535.
It said that 68.9 percent, or 492 of the 714 specimen samples, analyzed by the PGC on Jan. 13-14 were found to be Omicron.
Of the 492 new cases, 332 were local transmissions and 160 were Filipinos who returned from abroad.
The DOH said 227 of the local cases had NCR addresses; 76 in Calabarzon (Cavite, Laguna, Batangas, Rizal and Quezon); 11 in Central Luzon and five in Central Visayas.
There were also two cases each from Cagayan Valley, Western Visayas, Davao Region, Soccsksargen (South Cotabato, Cotabato, Sultan Kudarat, Sarangani and General Santos City) and the Cordillera Administrative Region; and one each from the Ilocos Region, Mimaropa (Mindoro, Marinduque, Romblon and Palawan), and the Bangsamoro Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao.
Three cases are still active and 467 had recovered. The outcomes of 20 other cases are still being verified, the DOH said.
The independent pandemic monitor OCTA Research on Wednesday said it observed that highly urbanized cities (HUCs) outside the NCR Plus area were showing “very high” COVID-19 growth rates while Metro Manila was showing a decline in cases.
The cities which posted “very high” growth rates from Jan. 12 to Jan. 18 include Tacloban (469 percent), Cebu (378 percent), Davao (305 percent), and Iloilo (281 percent), OCTA fellow Guido David said in a post on Twitter.
“While growth rates have slowed in NCR Plus, they are still accelerating in many HUCs outside NCR Plus,” David said.
The NCR Plus area refers to Metro Manila and the nearby provinces of Rizal, Bulacan, Cavite, and Laguna.
OCTA said the reproduction number in NCR decreased to 1.79 from 4.24 a week ago, while the weekly growth rate became negative (-10 percent) for the first time since Dec. 24, 2021.
A reproduction number of less than 1 indicates that transmission is slowing down.
NCR’s average daily attack rate (Adar), however, is still a “severe” 111.47, according to OCTA.
Adar refers to the number of cases, or individuals infected, per 100,000 population.
Baguio City recorded the highest Adar—a more severe 130.56.
The cities of Santiago, Naga, Iloilo, Tacloban, Dagupan, Angeles, Lapu-Lapu, Lucena and Cebu were among those that registered “very high” Adar, OCTA said.
Among the cities that registered the highest reproduction numbers were Tacloban (4.59), Cebu (4.51), Baguio (4.28), and Davao (4.11).
David said that even if the cases in Metro Manila appeared to be on a “downward trend,” OCTA won’t encourage people to go out just yet.
“In fact, people should still be very vigilant … in following public health guidelines to sustain the trends, particularly as the NCR is still considered under critical risk and is still in a severe outbreak,” he said.
The downward trend is “clear” in Manila, whose seven-day average of new cases decreased in one week by 23 percent, from 2,152 to 1,658. Manila’s reproduction number also declined to 1.50, David said.
San Juan and Malabon also had negative one-week growth rates.
43.5% positivity rate
On Wednesday, the DOH reported 22,958 new COVID-19 cases, raising the national caseload to 3,293,625.
Metro Manila still accounted for the biggest chunk, 7,861 cases, or almost 36 percent. Calabarzon and Central Luzon also reported large numbers.
Wednesday’s positivity rate was 43.5 percent based on 62,531 people who were tested for COVID-19 on Monday, virtually unchanged from Tuesday’s 43.4 percent.
The World Health Organization’s benchmark positivity rate of below 5 percent, sustained for two weeks, indicates that virus transmission is under control.
Around 94 percent, or 21,691 of the new cases, occurred from Jan. 6 to Jan. 19.
270K active cases
The DOH said there were 270,728 active cases. Of the total, 257,632 were mild, 8,335 asymptomatic, 2,970 moderate, 1,487 severe and 304 critical.
The 36,611 recoveries brought the total number of survivors to 2,969,853.
The 82 fatalities raised the death toll to 53,044, the DOH said. It said 56 deaths occurred this month, while the rest happened between January and October 2021 but were reported only on Wednesday.
The DOH also reiterated its call for the public to get vaccinated against COVID-19.
“Getting vaccinated is still our best line of defense when it comes to fighting and preventing severe and critical disease. Regardless of the variant, we must always keep our guards up against the enemy that is COVID-19,” it said.