COVID-19

COVID-19 Weekly Watch: How PH can stay ahead of an Omicron surge

Sofia Tomacruz
COVID-19 Weekly Watch: How PH can stay ahead of an Omicron surge

COMMUTERS. An influx of commuters is seen at the Light Rail Transit Line 1 on March 1, 2022.

Rappler

This week of June 5, 2022, we look at what we can draw from the wave of cases in South Africa and Portugal and how to stay ahead of the virus

MANILA, Philippines – Coronavirus case in the Philippines averaged around 180 new cases daily in the recent week, with infection inching up slowly in Metro Manila. Across the rest of Luzon, cases declined slightly in the past few days, while cases were flat across the Visayas and Mindanao. 

Roughly 64% of all Filipinos have been fully vaccinated against COVID-19. Here’s what we’re watching this week of June 5, 2022:

BA.4 and BA.5 waves

The Department of Health recently reported cases of the BA.5 Omicron subvariant in the Philippines, making it the latest of the Omicron family to be detected in the country. We look at what South Africa and Portugal could tell us about cases fueled by BA.4 and BA.5: 

  • South Africa saw a wave of cases driven by the two variants that were even more contagious than other Omicron versions, even if a vast majority of the population in the country appeared to have antibodies against the virus through either prior infection or vaccination. The wave, which  began in April, was receding quickly, with cases falling in recent weeks. 
    • The rise in cases despite this finding adds to what scientists see as the virus’ ability to dodge and evade immunity. 
    • Jeffrey Shaman, an infectious disease modeler and epidemiologist at Columbia University, told the New York Times, “We have to admit the possibility that the number of waves that we’ve seen over the past few years, it may continue at that cadence.”
  • Like South Africa, Portugal has been hit by wave of cases fueled by BA.4 and BA.5, although cases, hospitalizations, and deaths were increasing – and were higher – than South Africa’s. 
    • Epidemiologist Kately Jetelina says what this shows is only “a variant’s impact in one country will not necessarily be the same in another due to variability in demographics, environment, behaviors, and immunity.”
One step ahead

Experts, along with health authorities in the Philippines, continue to watch for whether a significant increase in cases will be seen in the coming weeks as infections slowly climb in Metro Manila. 

  • Health experts have urged the government to stay ahead of any possible surge by increasing the pace at which vaccinations were being done. There has been less urgency among Filipinos to get both vaccinated and boosted in recent months, while at least 35% of the population remain vulnerable. 
  • Booster uptake is even slower – with just 14.3 million Filipinos up to date with their vaccination. At least 40.9 million more adult Filipinos have yet to receive their booster dose. More so in the context of Omicron, staying up to date on vaccinations and getting boosted would blunt infections and deaths in future surges. 
  • Aside from vaccination, public health advocates have also stressed the importance of giving incentives to establishments which observe good ventilation, a key in preventing the transmission of the virus.
Fifth shots in Sweden

Health authorities in Sweden recently recommended a fifth COVID-19 vaccine for the elderly or anyone over 65 years old, pregnant women, and people with an increased risk of severe illness. 

  • An additional shot is being offered in hopes of increasing protection and prepping the country for a possible increase in cases later in the year during fall or winter. Fifth shots are expected to be offered beginning September 1. 
  • “The vaccine is our strongest tool for preventing serious illness and death,” Swedish Social Affairs Minister Lena Hallengren said during a press conference. “The pandemic is not over.”
  • Sweden is seen as the first country to offer a fifth shot. Its strategy offers a glimpse of what vaccination regimens against COVID-19 could look like in coming months and what experts see as a strategy that may resemble annual  flu vaccines. 

– Rappler.com

Sofia Tomacruz

Sofia Tomacruz covers foreign affairs and is the lead reporter on the coronavirus pandemic. She also writes stories on the treatment of women and children. Follow her on Twitter via @sofiatomacruz. Email her at sofia.tomacruz@rappler.com.