MANILA (UPDATE)—The Philippine Embassy in New Delhi will close its office until May 17 to comply with the local lockdown as COVID-29 cases surged, the country's representative there said Wednesday.
Two Filipinos in India died this week due to COVID-19 as it tallied average daily cases of some 200,000, Ambassador Ramon Bagatsing Jr. said.
The Philippines has since banned the entry of travelers from India until May 14.
"We have closed the embassy 10 days ago because may order ng lockdown ang Indian government lalo na dito sa New Delhi . . . We will extend the lockdown up to May 17," Bagatsing told ABS-CBN's Teleradyo.
(We have closed the embassy 10 days ago because there's a lockdown order from the Indian government especially here in New Delhi.)
India is home to some 1,319 Filipinos as of June 2020, of which 10 percent were migrant workers and 80 percent were housewives, said Bagatsing.
He urged the Filipino community to "stay home and stay safe."
"I think in 1 or 2 weeks’ time they’ll go back to par again before this spike of about 200,000 cases per day," the ambassador said.
The health of one of the Filipinos who died of COVID-19 in India deteriorated quickly, said a close friend, Victoria Singh, a member of the community, a resident of India for 28 years.
The Filipino fatality tested positive for coronavirus on April 23 and died midnight of April 26, according to Singh.
"Sabi niya kung pwede magpadala ng pagkain kasi po nag-iisa lang siya. Pinadadalhan po namin ng pagkain. May issue din po siya ng high-blood kaya hindi ko rin po alam ang nangyari last moment kasi lockdown din po dito sa amin, wala kaming magawa," she said.
(He told me if food could be delivered to him because he was by himself, and we did. He also had high blood so I do not know what happened at the last moment because we were under lockdown. We cannot do anything."
The Filipino community in India keeps in touch through telephone, Singh added.
Filipino authorities in India are “doing everything we can” to bring their remains back to the Philippines, Bagatsing earlier said.
Bodies of COVID-19 patients are sometimes cremated on the streets, according to Singh.
"May line 'yan para malaman sino ang next ike-cremate," she said.
(There is a line to determine who will be cremated next.)
"It’s very worse in India. Government, they're trying to control but it’s still spreading, increasing and lots of people are dying. There are no available beds, no oxygen."
Meanwhile, experts are looking into whether the new coronavirus variant first detected in India caused the pandemic surge, said Dr. Eva Maria Cutiongco-dela Paz, executive director of the UP National Institutes of Health.
The surge had followed a religious tradition where thousands of devotees gathered for a ritual bath in the Ganges river.
"Maaaring ang virus at pagka hindi nasusunod ang minimum public health standards. Hindi pa malinaw kung ito ang pangunahing driver sa pagdami ng kaso sa India," she said.
(The surge in cases may have been caused by the virus variant or non-observance of minimum public health standards. It's not yet clear.)
"Ito ay inaaral nang mabuti o minomonitor closely baka may contribution ang pareho."
(This is being studied carefully or being monitored closely because it can be both that contributed to the surge in cases.)
The B.1.617 variant, first detected in October, has a "double mutation" in its gene of spike protein or where the virus attaches itself to human cells, she added.
These are E484Q and L452R. The first is similar to E484K, a mutation observed in the South African, Brazilian, and more recently, the UK variants, which are more transmissible.
The variant first reported in India has been detected in at least 17 countries, according to the World Health Organization.
--With reports from Agence France-Presse