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Philippines won’t close borders amid rising cases


THE PHILIPPINES is unlikely to restrict its borders again despite rising coronavirus infections spurred by more contagious Omicron subvariants, health authorities said on Tuesday.

“We don’t recommend further restrictions on our borders… but we would like to remain vigilant,” Health Undersecretary Maria Rosario S. Vergeire told reporters in mixed English and Filipino, adding that the country could not remain closed forever.

“Our surveillance system is up, we’re closely monitoring it, we’re prepared in our communities and hospitals if and when cases continue to rise in our country,” she added.

“Infections are expected because of the continuous mutation of the virus and transmission.”

The more contagious Omicron BA.2.75 subvariant has been detected in India, the US and several other countries, according to the World Health Organization. The Chinese city of Shanghai has also discovered the Omicron BA.5.2.1 subvariant.

The government should ensure that the number of severe and critical patients remain low, Ms. Vergeire said.

Coronavirus vaccines remain effective in preventing severe and critical infections from more contagious subvariants, she added.

The Philippines logged 79 more cases of highly contagious Omicron subvariants, Ms. Vergeire said.

Despite this, the country remained at low risk from the coronavirus, she added.

DoH found 60 more cases of the Omicron BA.5, 17 more cases of the BA2.12.1 and two more cases of the BA.4 in the latest whole genome sequencing.

The country now had 293 BA.5 cases, 87 BA.2.12.1 cases and 12 BA.4 cases.

Of the new BA.5 patients, 58 came from Western Visayas and one each from the Davao and Soccsksargen regions. One of them had mild symptoms.

“The disease severity of the remaining 59 were still being verified.”

Ms. Vergeire said 43 people have recovered, while 14 were still in isolation. “The outcomes of the rest were still being verified.”

Of the 17 new BA2.12.1 patients, six came from Western Visayas, 10 from Davao, and one was a returning migrant Filipino, she said. 

Two of them showed mild symptoms, one had severe symptoms and another was asymptomatic. The status of the others was still being verified.

Ms. Vergeire said 15 of the new BA2.12.1 patients have recovered, while two were still in isolation.

She said the two new BA.4 patients came from Davao and Soccsksargen. Both of them showed mild symptoms and have recovered.

Ms. Vergeire said the Philippines remained at low risk from the coronavirus despite rising infections. Fewer than 1,000 patients have had a severe or critical infection since mid-March, she added.

More than 71 million people had been fully vaccinated against the virus as of July 11, while 15.3 million have received their first booster shot, Ms. Vergeire said. More than 954,000 have been injected with a second booster.

Meanwhile, Ms. Vergeire said infections could peak by the end of July due to low booster uptake and increased movement of people. More patients could get hospitalized from August to September, she separately told CNN Philippines.

“But nothing is certain, these are all projections,” she said. “There are a lot of things that can contribute to us not reaching this or reaching that as early as maybe the third week of July.”

On Monday, the Department  of Health (DoH) said the average daily coronavirus infections in the Philippines rose by 39% last week to 1,467 from a week earlier.

Infections on July 4 to 10 hit 10,271, while severe and critical cases reached 27, it said in a bulletin.

Of the 50 new deaths, one occured in May, three in February, and eight in January. There rest occured in the past two years.

DoH said 411 of 2,414 intensive care unit (ICU) beds had been used as of July 10, while 4,863 of 21,424 non-ICU beds were occupied. There were 555 severe and critical admissions.

Fredegusto P. David, a fellow at the OCTA Research Group, tweeted on Sunday night that the positivity rate in Metro Manila had risen to 10.9%, breaching the threshold set by the World Health Organization (WHO).

The infection rate should remain below 5% to keep coronavirus cases under control, according to the international agency. — Kyle Aristophere T. Atienza

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