Slowdown in rise of COVID-19 cases – experts

Helen Flores - The Philippine Star
Slowdown in rise of COVID-19 cases â experts
Market-goers at Barangay Quirino 3A in Project 3, Quezon City observe social distancing on March 22, 2020. The Health Department reported 73 new cases of COVID-19 bringing the total number of cases in the Philippines to 380 as of March 22, 2020.
The STAR / Michael Varcas, file

MANILA, Philippines — There is a slowdown in the increase of COVID-19 cases in the country, experts said, but the public must continue to observe health protocols as the health care system remains overstretched.

“We are seeing a downturn in the numbers. If you look at our world in data, it’s clear that the surge in the Philippines has peaked. For the last three days we’ve had a negative growth rate in the National Capital Region, suggesting that the NCR also has peaked,” OCTA Research fellow Fr. Nicanor Austriaco said during a Palace media briefing.

Austriaco warned that the decision to loosen quarantine restrictions in the capital could trigger another surge if people would become complacent.

“But all of these are always reversible and we have to be very careful as we move into the granular lockdown mode, that we do not reverse the gains we have made in the last few weeks,” he said.

The government is piloting the alert level system with granular lockdowns in Metro Manila to further reopen the economy amid the pandemic. The capital is under Alert Level 4, the second highest level, from Sept. 16 until the end of the month.

Infectious disease expert Edsel Salvana noted the country recorded fewer deaths despite the spike in cases driven largely by the more transmissible Delta variant.

“If we look at the number of deaths versus the number of cases, we know that the number of cases is now more than double because of Delta since August. But did deaths double as well? Actually, no. It is just slightly above the deaths per day we saw in April,” he said.

Salvana attributed the fewer deaths to the increase in the number of vaccinated individuals.

Meanwhile, both experts agreed that there is no urgency to give COVID booster shots to the general public yet.

Salvana said he does not agree that the use of old vaccines as booster shots would work as it would only generate the same antibodies and could not protect the people against the highly contagious Delta variant.

“Although clinical trials are currently underway on the reformulated vaccine specific to the variant of concern including Delta, I think those might be more appropriate later on,” he said.

The US Food and Drug Administration recommended booster shots to those 65 years old and above and those who have comorbidities.

“What the (USFDA) is doing is they consider the third shot as a booster. Actually, the third dose is for the elderly and immunocompromised,” he said, noting that two vaccine doses might not be enough for them to attain immunity.

“But for the general population, it seems that for now two doses is enough and if we have a booster later on, I would rather get a new and improved, reformulated vaccine that is also effective against the Delta variant,” Salvana said.

Austriaco said at this point, it is important to build up population immunity in the Philippines.

“The population immunity will also directly benefit those who are immunocompromised and who might have weakened immune systems because it prevents the virus from getting to them,” he said.

New peak

Meanwhile, the Department of Health (DOH) has observed a “new peak” in COVID deaths in mid-August, one month since the country detected local cases of the highly transmissible Delta variant.

Health Undersecretary Maria Rosario Vergeire said the number of deaths has been increasing since last week of August until a “new peak” was seen in the middle of August.

“The average deaths per day in August is 155 and this has exceeded (the peak) last April with 135,” Vergeire said.

Partial data for September show an average of 99 deaths per day.

Vergeire noted the current number of fatalities is still expected to increase. – Sheila Crisostomo

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