The Philippines is facing a Covid-19 spike that has accelerated at a speed not seen since the beginning of the pandemic. There are fewer people who are seriously ill than in previous waves. This is a good sign for countries that expect a similar increase in cases.
The government said last week there was a “very high” likelihood that the Omicron variant had fueled the latest outbreak, which began after the Christmas and New Year holiday period, though sequencing results have also shown that the Delta variant is still spreading in the country.
It is evident that infections are not the same. Hospitals are not overwhelmed yet. Patients are arriving at hospitals with other ailments and learning that they have the coronavirus. People are able to recover faster.
The Philippines outbreak adds to the growing evidence that the Omicron variant may not prove as deadly as people fear, especially among those who have been vaccinated. Experts warn against being too cautious.
Already, the virus has created a shortage in medicines and could open up new avenues for dangerous mutations. Hospitals could be wiped out in a country with the lowest vaccination rates in Asia, and a region still waiting for its first Omicron infection.
“This is really different, a different surge compared to Delta,” said Dr. Rontgene Solante, chief of the Adult Infectious Diseases and Tropical Medicine Unit at the government-run San Lazaro Hospital in Manila. “Here you have a high number of cases, but the hospitalization rate is still manageable.”
If the trend continues, it could offer a glimmer for the Philippines, which was one of the worst-hit Asian countries by the pandemic. It shut schools for 20 months and imposed one of the world’s longest lockdowns, exacerbating widespread poverty. Covid-19 has claimed the lives of more than 52,900 people.
Dr. Maria Rosario Vergeire was the under secretary for health and stated that the government would change its policies regarding controlling Covid after learning that Omicron is a stronger, yet more transmissible strain of the virus.
Contact tracing efforts were stopped last Thursday. Testing will be focused on diagnosing those at high risk, such as seniors or people with comorbidities. People who have symptoms will be encouraged immediately to isolate. The government stated that it has reduced the time taken to isolate people infected with Covid from 10 days to seven days.
Even though the virus is still spreading at a rapid pace, the rules are being relaxed. Monday’s latest data showed that the rate of test positivity has surpassed 46 percent. Nearly one in two people tested for Covid-19 are positive. According to government data, cases are increasing by about one per day.
The number of active Covid-19 patients in the Philippines jumped sharply from 10,095 one month ago to 290,938, a record. Health experts believe the true number is higher, as the government does not include antigen rapid tests in its count. Their hope lies in the fact that many patients are recovering quickly.
Cai de León developed a cough and fever two days after returning from Olongapo with her family. Her blood pressure began to climb. She checked herself into the hospital on Jan. 3, after her oxygen levels dropped to 94. She was given Covid.
Ms. de Leon, who lives in Manila, had been vaccinated with China’s Sinovac and a Moderna booster shot. After four days, Ms. de Leon was discharged from the hospital with Molnupiravir (an antiviral treatment made in Merck and Ridgeback Biotherapeutics).
“I’m still in isolation and I still have a terrible cough, but I’m already out of the woods,” said Ms. de Leon, 37. “If I didn’t have those vaccines, I’d fear for my life.”
Although Ms. de Leon was treated quickly, hospitals are on edge. Health care workers are being affected by the virus in large numbers. They must stay in quarantine for five days if they test positive. This will add to the strain on an already stretched system. The government said this week that 8 percent of the country’s health care workers have had to be quarantined or hospitalized because of the virus.
The number of hospitalized children has increased by between 30 percent to 40 percent since September 2021, when the Delta strain devastated the country. Parents in Manila are finding it difficult to get cough and fever medicines before the pharmacies run out. The government announced plans to start vaccinating children under 11 years old last Monday.
The Philippines has one the lowest vaccination rates in Asia. It has only inoculated about half of its population. Health experts warn that if there are many infected people, the virus is more likely to mutate and potentially become more dangerous. Hospitalizations could be necessary Accelerate, especially in areas with lower vaccination rates
Dr. Jose Rene De Grano is the president of Private Hospitals Association. He said there were first reports of a rise in cases in hospitals beyond Metro Manila. These included Visayas, Mindanao and North Luzon. “Although the symptoms are milder, it should not make us complacent,” Dr. De Grano said.
“Even though we think that this infection is milder, especially in vaccinated people, we still have to do our darn best to slow it down, so that it doesn’t mutate so fast,” said Dr. Edsel Salvana, an adviser to the Philippine government on Covid-19. “Then it’s going to be a different story again.”
The number of severe illnesses has not increased in the Philippines despite the outbreak. The government stated that 20 percent of severe Covid cases have been reported in Metro Manila, a region where more than 96 per cent of the eligible population has been fully vaccinated. The proportion of mild and asymptomatic cases has fallen to 60 percent.
Doctors in Manila claim that one of the most striking differences between the new and previous Covid waves is their ability to detect clear lungs in Xrays and CT scans. During the previous Delta surge, patients showed up with what doctors called “burned out lungs.” Many required ventilators to breathe.
The spokesman for the Philippine General Hospital, Jonas del Rosario, said only a few Covid-19 patients being brought to the hospital’s emergency room these days have respiratory problems. “Now, we can hardly see patients who need to be intubated or put on oxygen,” he said at a press briefing earlier this month.
Dr. Salvana is also an infectious diseases specialist. He said that he recently saw a patient in his 80s who had contracted Covid. His weak lungs and history of pneumonia led to him having to have a CT scan. However, his doctors found that his lungs were clear after he was treated with Covid.
“We were going: ‘What?’ The radiologist was saying: ‘This can’t be right,’” Dr. Salvana said.
Rogeselle Monton, a patient with H.I.V., was ill with Covid-19 on Jan. 3. After finding blood in his stool, he developed a sore cough, cough, and cold. Later, he was diagnosed with pneumonia.
Mr. Monton, 30 years old, had two shots with AstraZeneca and a booster shot of the Pfizer vaccine. “Maybe if I were not boosted, my condition might have been worse,” he said.
After determining that Mr. Monton’s oxygen level was stable, doctors last week gave him the green light to go home.
Source: NY Times