PH records 11 local Delta variant cases, total stands at 35

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Metro Manila (CNN Philippines, July 16) — The feared Delta coronavirus variant has entered the Philippines, with the Department of Health reporting 16 new cases on Friday, including 11 patients who caught the virus locally.

DOH said one patient from Metro Manila died, while 15 of the new cases were tagged as recovered.

The agency listed the breakdown of the 11 local cases:

- Two in Manila City

- Five in Cagayan de Oro

- One in Misamis Oriental

- Two in Antique

- One in Pampanga

DOH Epidemiology Bureau Director Dr. Thea de Guzman said "clustering" have been recorded in Northern Mindanao and Western Visayas, but it cannot be concluded yet if there is local transmission since the cases are "sporadic."

"Meron na tayong local cases but it is sporadic in some areas. Meron tayong clustering sa ibang rehiyon pero ini-investigate pa kung may linkage ba sila sa isa't-isa at saan nila potentially nakuha ang Delta variant," she said in a media briefing.

[Translation: We have local cases, but it is sporadic in some areas. We have clustering in other regions but we are investigating if they are link and where they acquired the variant.]

RELATED: PH to allocate J&J vaccine donation to Delta variant cluster areas

Despite no clear source for the local cases, Philippine Genome Center chief Cynthia Saloma denied that the variant mutated in the country.

"(It is) 100% sourced from abroad. We have done genetic analysis of all Delta variants from the Philippines. They are all rooted in samples abroad. Some of them are closely linked with clusters in India, others are in UAE and Southeast Asia.

Of the 16 new cases, five Filipinos who returned to the country were found carrying the Delta mutation. They have travel history from the United Arab Emirates, Qatar, and United Kingdom, while the DOH is still verifying the travel history of the two others.

Ten of the 16 cases are females with an age range of 14-79 years old.

There are to date 35 Delta variant cases in the country. The previous 19 cases recorded were all returning overseas Filipinos who were immediately quarantined upon arrival.

Delta is believed to be the most transmissible variant, having been detected in at least 98 nations. It is associated with increased hospitalization. It is seen as the driver of the surge in India and Indonesia.

De Guzman added they also detected 264 more Alpha variant cases and 299 new Beta variant cases based on the latest genome sequencing results.

Contact tracing, lockdown

Health Undersecretary Maria Rosario Vergeire said the close contacts of the patients were already traced upon receiving the positive result, but local government units were instructed to backtrace and widen their efforts to cut the spread of the variant.

Cagayan de Oro Mayor Oscar Moreno, for his part, vowed that the LGU will expand tracing measures and strengthen border controls.

Moreno also advised his constituents "not to panic" amid the variant threat, saying this can be managed through strict observance of health protocols and vaccination.

He added that those tagged as Delta variant cases will be "invited" to the city's temporary treatment facility for monitoring.

Meanwhile, Vergeire added that since cases are sporadic, city- or province-wide lockdowns shouldn't be an option unless it is seeing a surge in Delta cases.

"Our primary strategy for now would be granular lockdowns, but kung nakikita that the area has a surge tapos meron pang Delta variant, iyan ang pag-uusapan sa IATF," she said.

[Translation: Our primary strategy for now would be granular lockdowns, but if we are seeing surges and more Delta variant cases, that will be discussed in the IATF.]

The IATF on Friday escalated the community quarantine classification of Iloilo Province, Iloilo City, and Ginoog in Misamis Oriental from modified enhanced community quarantine (MECQ) to ECQ until July 31.

PH ready for Delta, officials say

Vaccine czar Carlito Galvez Jr. said the government "prepared in scale" for the entry of the variant that is wreaking havoc in huge parts of the world. He said hospitals have been given additional funds to increase bed capacity and buy COVID-19 treatment supplies. He also said isolation facilities have been gradually increased over time to accommodate more patients in case of a surge.

Vergeire seconded Galvez's remarks, saying the Philippines is at an advantage because it had time to prepare for the entry of the variant.

She added there is enough supply of oxygen tanks — one of the main problems Indonesia is suffering from. But she said manufacturers have been asked to scale up operations. 

"Nanghingi tayo ng tulong sa DTI kung maaaring dagdagan pa ang pag-produce because in other countries, ang oxygen na kailangan kapag natamaan ng Delta variant is twice as much as what we need in this current time," she said. "Lahat ng efforts natin anticipatory. We will not wait to get overwhelmed tsaka tayo aaksyon."

[Translation: We asked the Trade Department's help if they can increase the production of oxygen tanks. In other countries, they need two times more oxygen. Our efforts are anticipatory. We will not wait for our healthcare system to get overwhelmed before we act.]

The country has a total 1,496,328 COVID-19 cases and 26,467 deaths.