MANILA— At least two barangays in Bontoc town, Mountain Province have been placed on lockdown after the detection of a cluster of cases of the new COVID-19 variant, with the local health system close to critical, a health official said Saturday.
Dr. Ruby Constantino, Regional Director of the Department of Health in the Cordillera Administrative Region, said local officials in Bontoc town enforced a lockdown in affected barangays where cases of the more transmissible coronavirus variant were detected.
A total of 12 cases of the UK COVID-19 strain had been confirmed in the town on Friday night, with 11 in a single barangay. Dr. Edsel Salvana, a member of the DOH Technical Advisory Group, said patients in this cluster were all "related" to each other.
Constantino said the stricter quarantine may be expanded if the local health care capacity is overwhelmed by the surge in cases.
"Currently, the local LGU of Bontoc municipality implemented the lockdown of the involved barangays, but as per our meeting last night… if ever our health care utilization rate will continue to increase, they might recommend to the IATF the changing of our quarantine status from MGCQ (modified general community quarantine) to GCQ," she told a virtual briefing.
MGCQ is the lowest quarantine level, with those 10 to 65 years old allowed to leave their homes.
She said it was a "very big challenge" to bring down the utilization rate of health care facilities.
"That is a very big challenge that we have to lower the HCUR (health care utilization rate), yesterday almost danger zone na because the facilities are fully occupied, we really have to move our asymptomatic patients," she said.
Dr. Alethea de Guzman, medical specialist at the DOH Epidemiology Bureau, said Bontoc has seen a 203% rise in COVID-19 cases over the last two weeks.
All cases in Bontoc are under isolation. Seven are men and five are women, with 3 minors and 3 seniors. The earliest case fell ill on Dec. 31, she said.
The cases are among the total 16 new patients of the new COVID-19 variant in the country, raising the total to 17. The additional cases were confirmed on Friday, just as authorities reported the recovery of the first case— a man from Quezon City who was diagnosed with the new variant upon return from Dubai on January 7.
Health Undersecretary Maria Rosario Vergeire said of the new cases, three have already recovered while 13 are still ill. Among the active cases, 3 are asymptomatic, while 10 have mild symptoms.
With the detection of more cases of the new strain, genome sequencing- the step necessary to determine the strain of the virus- will continue, with the sampling method to be discussed in the coming days, said Dr. Eva Maria Cutiongco of the University of the Philippines National Institutes of Health.
She said experts would endeavor to get a "better representation of samples from different regions," with priority samples identified.
The current capacity for genome sequencing is 750 samples per week, she said.
"'Yan po ay 'di whimsical type ng determination, may ginagamit tayong prioritization," she said.
(That is not a whimsical type of determination, we use a prioritization method.)