MANILA (UPDATE)— The National Capital Region can be in the early stages of a COVID-19 surge after recording a spike in infections that may be driven by the more transmissible Delta variant, the OCTA Research group said on Thursday.
In its latest monitoring, the independent research group pointed out that Metro Manila's reproduction number (R) in the past week (July 15 - July 21) increased to 1.15, which means that a virus carrier is infecting an average of more than one individual.
The R number indicates the rate of spread of the disease. An R value above 1 can lead to exponential growth.
The current reproduction number in the NCR is higher by 0.24 from the past week, based on OCTA's advisory.
"The trend in the reproduction over the past week shows a similar pattern with the trend from [early February], when the (R) increased from 1.06 to 1.30. The period signified the start of the surge in the NCR," the research unit's report read.
"We cannot underestimate the COVID-19 uptick in the NCR because of the possibility that it MAY be driven by the Delta variant," OCTA said in a separate statement to reporters.
ABS-CBN Data Analytics head Edson Guido said the region recorded 1,027 new cases on Wednesday, the highest reported in nearly 2 months or since June 10.
This is the first time that additional infections in NCR breached 1,000 during the same period, Guido added.
The 7-day average of reported cases in Metro Manila stood at 810, which is 27 percent higher than the previous week, he said. It is the highest since June 15.
Wednesday's newly added cases is the also highest for the month of July so far, data showed.
ABS-CBN News asked the Department of Health (DOH) for a comment on OCTA's report, but the agency did not immediately respond for comment.
ALPHA, BETA VARIANTS BEHIND SPIKE OF CASES - DOH
But in an interview on ABS-CBN's TeleRadyo on Wednesday night, Health Undersecretary Maria Rosario Vergeire said a slight increase in cases in Metro Manila, and even in other areas, has indeed been observed.
She said that the NCR's 2-week growth rate currently stood at -0.4 percent, from the previous -19 percent. She did not mention the specific dates during the interview.
"Ibig sabihin, may pagtaas na rin tayong nakikita dito sa NCR," she said.
(This means that we are seeing a spike in infections here in NCR.)
But she said this cannot be attributed yet to the Delta variant.
She noted that the main drivers of the new infections in the region are from the Alpha and Beta variants, or the strain first detected in the United Kingdom and South Africa, respectively.
"Isa sa drivers ng infection ngayon dito sa Metro Manila will be the other types of the variants, the Alpha and the Beta. Nakita po natin yan talaga, may ebidensya tayo diyan. As to the Delta variant, we still need to determine the extent kasi po nag-ge-genome sequencing pa rin tayo," Vergeire said.
(One of the drivers of the infections in Metro Manila will be from the other variants, the Alpha and the Beta. We have seen it, we have pieces of evidence to support this. We are still processing the genome sequence to determine the extend of the Delta variant)
"We cannot attribute it yet - sabihin natin, Delta variant yan o kung anong variant. Ang alam natin, existing, mayroon na tayong iba't ibang variants. Lalo na ang Alpha at Beta variants, lahat po ng cities natin ngayon kasi mayroon nang iba't ibang variants," she added.
(We cannot say it is the Delta variant. What we know is we have the presence of different variants, especially the Alpha and Beta variants. All cities now have different variants.)
Seven areas already registered a positive 2-week growth rate in Metro Manila, but she refused to specify the places because of the "sensitivity" of local officials on the matter. Her agency, she said, will present the findings to the Inter-Agency Task Force for the Management of Emerging Infectious Diseases Thursday.
But she said those areas are in the region's District 2, District 3, and District 4.
Vergeire said several factors could contribute to the new infections such as increased mobility, and the people's non-compliance with minimum health protocols.
Earlier in the day, the DOH detected 12 new local cases of the more transmissible Delta variant that ravaged India and currently ripping through the health care system of Indonesia.
Of the 47 total recorded Delta variant cases, eight are active.
NEW LOCKDOWNS SOUGHT
OCTA recommended a stricter lockdown classification for Metro Manila to halt the increasing rate of infections, while also urging local government units to "increase" restrictions, reduce the capacity of business establishments, lengthen curfews, and reduce the people's mobility for now.
Most of the areas in the country, including NCR, are currently in the general community quarantine level— the second loosest— until the end of the month.
"It is best to be cautious and be prepared for a possible surge. The increase in cases is still in its nascent stage, and can still be mitigated with proactive and decisive measures," said OCTA.
"If Delta is driving this surge, we need to crush it with lockdowns (localized and regional) and with expanded testing and tracing, before it explodes and creates a catastrophic surge."
Vergeire, during the TeleRadyo interview, said granular lockdowns in areas that are seeing clustering of infections is recommended.
Earlier this month, the DOH committed handling 5-digit new COVID-19 cases at the worst case scenario, should the Delta variant cause a possible new wave of infections in the Philippines.
In early April, the country recorded more than 15,000 fresh coronavirus cases during the peak of the surge, which had stretched health care capacity in the capital region and surrounding provinces.
The health agency had earlier admitted the limitations in the country's genome sequencing capabilities, which is key to detect the presence of virus variants in some testing samples.
As of Thursday, the Philippines has recorded a total of 1,530,266 COVID-19 cases, of which 50,562 or 3.3 percent are active.