The Delta variant

DEMAND AND SUPPLY - Boo Chanco (The Philippine Star) - June 18, 2021 - 12:00am

They were all ready to declare independence from the virus, but England’s plan to lift all COVID-19 restrictions on June 21 will not happen. Thanks to the Delta variant of the virus.

“Freedom Day” for English citizens, as some have called it, must be delayed by four weeks to July 19. They are afraid that fully lifting restrictions as scheduled could make hospitalizations rise to the levels seen in their first wave.

The Delta variant – first identified in India – is growing in the UK at seven percent  week on week, despite their good vaccination record. They are planning to use the next four weeks to accelerate second vaccination shots to those most vulnerable.

In Chile, health authorities announced a blanket lockdown across the capital Santiago as COVID-19 case numbers rose alarmingly since the pandemic began. Yet, they have fully vaccinated more than half the population.

Intensive care beds in the capital region are now at 98 percent capacity. Jose Luis Espinoza, the president of Chile’s National Federation of Nursing Associations, said his members were “on the verge of collapse.”

Around 75 percent of its 15 million target population have already received at least one dose of vaccine, and nearly 58 percent  are completely inoculated. According to Reuters, Chile used nearly 23 million vaccines doses so far – 17.2 million of Sinovac, 4.6 million of Pfizer/BioNTech, and less than one million each of AstraZeneca and CanSino.

In China, there is a surge of new COVID-19 cases in Guangzhou. Again, the culprit is the fast-spreading Delta virus strain first detected in India.

They have not indicated if those infected had been vaccinated by Chinese or other vaccines. Delta’s spread in southeastern China raises questions on the effectiveness of Chinese vaccines.

What about us? How are we doing? There are conflicting reports.

According to OCTA, which relies on Department of Health  (DOH) data, cases continue to decline in NCR, noting a decrease of 134 percent from last week, 35 percent hospital bed occupancy, 46 percent ICU bed occupancy, and 33 percent mechanical ventilator occupancy all on safe levels.

But in an interview with “The Chiefs” on One News/TV5 on Monday night, Philippine College of Physicians (PCP) vice president Maricar Limpin disputed the pronouncement of the DOH.

“The DOH is saying there are still available beds, but we are the ones who know that there are many severe and critical COVID patients now,” Dr. Limpin said.

According to Limpin, the utilization rate for ICU beds in Metro Manila was previously at 50 percent, but it went up to 70 percent two weeks ago. “A week ago or at least last week, it was 80 percent. Now we are 100 percent full,” she said.

In the Visayas and Mindanao, where COVID-19 cases are increasing, Limpin said doctors are asking for help. So, there we are. We are definitely nowhere near normalcy. The key is full vaccination, and here is where we are as of June 15, according to Philippines Vaccine Tracker:

Those who got the first  dose is 4.6 percent of target for herd immunity. Those fully vaccinated is a mere 1.71 percent. These are national figures. I couldn’t get any regional breakdown. I am told that has not been made public.

What bothers me is that the variants, particularly Delta, may make the experts say we need a third shot, a booster, for more assured protection. That means we have to do everything all over again.

The question now is, how fast can we vaccinate? There are reports that some vax centers in NCR are running out of vaccines. We are being assured that more vaccines are arriving. But have we contracted enough?

According to CNN Philippines, we have received 12,705,870 doses as of June 14. Half were donated and we bought the other half.

We have received more donations (over five  million doses of AstraZeneca and Pfizer) from COVAX (through which the US courses its donations). We bought most of the Sinovac (6,500,000 doses). China only donated one million doses.

If we are still looking at 75 million people to be vaccinated for herd immunity, we will need 150 million doses.  At current levels of vaccination, the estimated herd immunity date is January 2024 or 2.6 years from now.

But we can’t just sit back. As someone puts it, we need to learn to dance with the virus.

This is why the economic managers are trying a calibrated approach. NEDA is doing a cost-benefit analysis of two weeks of ECQ/GCQ in NCR+ and the impact on the whole country.

BSP Monetary Board member and former NEDA chief Felipe Medalla commented: “It’s no use stimulating the economy if you’re locking it down at the same time. Vaccinate, then stimulate.”

Indeed, a successful inoculation drive supports the further reopening of the economy, a property market analyst observed.

BSP Governor Ben Diokno is optimistic about vaccine ramp up because he thinks we have multiple sources (nine brands) because we’re not choosy, confident we will have ample supply to vaccinate 50 million Filipinos by end of Q3.

Diokno had been optimistic about a lot of things before that didn’t pan out. Vaccinating 50-M by end of Q3 is iffy for now.

How do we ramp up vaccination? Easy… if IATF and DOH will not insist on a monopoly of vaccine procurement and inoculation.

Bohol Gov. Arthur Yap said the province has allocated P100 million for the purchase of vaccines for its residents, but Secretary [Carlito] Galvez won’t let them.

Gov. Yap said, “Secretary Galvez always tells me, enough vaccines will be distributed, especially in the coming weeks to the coming next two months.”

Bohol wants to jumpstart tourism in the province by creating a travel bubble with countries with low infection and by welcoming vaccinated travelers. There are rules based on science to do this right.

For us individually, even if we are completely vaccinated, we should continue to be paranoid about this virus… wash hands, wear a mask, do social distance and avoid aerosol infection.

The virus is sneaky, specially the Delta variant. It is very infectious and mutating fast to elude vaccines. And it is in the air.



Boo Chanco’s e-mail address is bchanco@gmail.com. Follow him on Twitter @boochanco

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