COVID-19

Expert says new COVID-19 variant may spike PH cases by 15-fold

Bonz Magsambol
Expert says new COVID-19 variant may spike PH cases by 15-fold

Commuters at the Caloocan Carousel bus station on Thursday, Oct 9, 2020.

Photo by Darren Langit/Rappler

If the new COVID-19 variant takes over the Philippines' coronavirus cases, the country needs to prepare its healthcare system

An expert studying the coronavirus outbreak in the country warned the new variant of COVID-19 – believed to be more contagious than the old variant – might increase the cases in the Philippines by 15-fold.

In a virtual press briefing on Wednesday, January 6, Dr John Wong of the health department’s technical advisory working group said that if the new variant would reach the Philippine shores, cases could go up as high as 300,000 by the end of the month.

“With our current r [reproduction rate] of 1.1, 20,000 cases at the beginning of the month will be about 32,000 at the end of the month. But if the variant takes over, the 20,000 cases can become almost 300,000 cases by the end of the month,” Wong, who is an epidemiologist and data expert, explained.

The new COVID-19 variant known as B117 was first detected in the United Kingdom in September. While there is no indication yet that suggests that it is more deadly, scientists said that it leads to an increased viral load inside a person’s respiratory tract so it spreads more easily when people talk or cough.

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British researchers and public officials have said that B117 variant is more transmissible than other versions of the coronavirus, with estimates ranging from 50% to 70% more infectious than the old variant.

No new COVID-19 variant yet

After Hong Kong health officials on Tuesday said they detected the presence of the UK variant of COVID-19 in a passenger who had traveled Manila, the Department of Health (DOH) maintained that the country has not detected the fast spreading variant of the disease yet. (READ: DOH, Genome Center: No new COVID-19 variant yet in PH)

This was after the results of the genome sequencing done by the Philippine Genome Center (PGC) came out Wednesday morning, which showed that none of the 305 samples it tested had the new variant.

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Health Undersecretary Maria Rosario Vergeire said that they have been contacting the International Health Regulations (IHR) focal point of Hong Kong for further details on the matter, but they have not received any response until now.

Why this matters

If this new COVID-19 variant takes over the Philippines’ coronavirus cases, the country needs to prepare its healthcare system.

When the the country eased its quarantine restrictions in July, the healthcare system was “nearly overwhelmed” due to the spike in cases. This prompted healthcare workers to call for a “timeout” as they urged the government to revert virus epicenter Metro Manila to a stricter quarantine measure. (READ: Doctors warn Duterte: PH ‘nearing end of the line’ in coronavirus battle)

As of January 4, the DOH said that only 31% of the hospital beds in the country have been occupied.

The pandemic has so far infected over 85 million people globally. In the Philippines, a total of 479,693 have been infected with the deadly virus as of January 5. Of the total, 9,321 have died while 448,375 have recovered. – Rappler.com