New variant may increase Philippines' COVID cases 15-fold, says gov’t adviser

Kristine Sabillo, ABS-CBN News

Posted at Jan 06 2021 05:18 PM

Video courtesy of DOH

MANILA — A public health research group on Wednesday warned that if the new COVID-19 variant enters the Philippines, it may result in much higher number of cases and deaths.

“If the variant takes over, the 20,000 cases can become almost 300,000 cases by the end of the month. This is what we want to avoid,” said Dr. John Wong, an epidemiologist and founder of EpiMetrics.

EpiMetrics is a public health research firm that is part of the sub-technical working group on data analytics of the Philippines’ Inter-Agency Task Force on COVID-19.

New variant may increase Philippines' COVID cases 15-fold, says gov’t adviser 1
Graph from Dr. John Wong of EpiMetrics

Wong showed a presentation indicating that cases can increase by 15 times after a month if the new variant becomes the “dominant species.”

He said it is fortunate that the new variant has not yet been detected in the Philippines. 

Using the R naught or reproduction number of the COVID-19 outbreak, which indicates the rate of spread of the disease, Wong also computed projections on COVID-related deaths if the new variant spreads in the country.

“Although, the variant does not cause more severe disease. Just having more cases means you’ll also have more absolute number of deaths,” he said. An example he gave is that deaths can increase from just 74 to about 700 with the new variant.

The only way to stop this is to reduce the transmission of the virus, he said, stressing that wearing masks, and cough and hand hygiene should be observed.

Dr. Issa Alejandria of the Philippine Society of Microbiology and Infectious Diseases agreed that the infection rate must be kept low.

“'Pag mas mababa ang infection, ang chances ng mutation ay mababa rin,” she said.

(If the infection rate is lower, the chances of mutation is also low.)

While the Philippine Genome Center has not detected the new variant from the 305 samples it received from passengers and hospital patients, the government is now investigating the case of a Hong Kong resident.

The patient arrived in Hong Kong from Manila and tested positive for the new variant.

The Philippines imposed late last year travel restrictions on foreign nationals coming from the United Kingdom where a more infectious coronavirus variant was detected.

The policy, which takes effect until Jan. 15, was expanded to cover 19 other countries, including the United States, as well as Hong Kong.

Filipino nationals coming from these areas are mandated to undergo 14-day quarantine upon arrival in the country, even if they tested negative for COVID-19.

On Wednesday, the Department of Health said it has recommended the inclusion of 6 more countries in the list.

The Philippines has recorded 480,737 total COVID-19 cases, as of Wednesday, including 22,690 active infections, 9,347 fatalities, and 448,700 recoveries.

The country's first confirmed case was recorded on Jan. 30 last year in a Chinese woman who arrived from Wuhan City, China where the disease is believed to have first emerged.


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