Stock up on oxygen amid Delta variant risk – WHO
MANILA, Philippines — The Department of Health (DOH) assumes a community transmission of the highly infectious Delta variant is already happening in the country despite the lack of enough sequenced samples it can show as proof and allow officials to make a formal declaration.
“We assume there is community transmission already…. [We] are going to [take] actions toward this direction that there is already community transmission,” Health
Undersecretary Maria Rosario Vergeire said in a television interview on Tuesday.
She noted an “exponential rise” in the weekly average of COVID-19 cases in the past 14 days: from 7,000 to 8,000 compared to 5,000 to 6,000 in the previous week. Based on this, the government projected a range of 18,000 to 30,000 active cases by the end of September, although Vergeire said they would release a revised projection due to changes in the current trend.
“We’re trying to plan [for] and anticipate the worst case scenario… [to] ensure at the very least [that we] manage those severe and critical cases,” she added.
The representative to the Philippines of the World Health Organization (WHO) said that hospital authorities should start stocking up on oxygen supplies.
“We need to see how we can mobilize additional oxygen sources because we’ve seen the Delta variant cause a significant demand in many countries, initially India, now Indonesia and Myanmar. We’ve seen that hospitals are running short of oxygen supplies,” Dr. Rabindra Abeyasinghe said at the Laging Handa briefing.
As of May, the suggested retail price, as issued by the DOH, for oxygen tanks was between P2,465 and P2,532.50 for 5 lbs and P4,030 to P5,500 for 15 lbs.
When sought for comment, Trade Secretary Ramon Lopez said that the current industry capacity was around three times the current demand.
“I have asked DOH before to procure and stockpile oxygen cylinder tanks and regulators in case the Delta variant will cause a surge. We have also encouraged oxygen manufacturers to expand their current capacities, noting that current industry capacity is about three times more the current demand,” he said in a Viber message on Tuesday.
“There is a surplus. The current capacity surplus includes the industrial oxygen capacity that can also be allocated to produce medical oxygen if and when necessary,” he added.
Abeyasinghe said the number of coronavirus cases attributed to the Delta variant went up by as much as 80 percent globally in the last four weeks, particularly in the Asia-Pacific region. A number of countries also reported an “unprecedented” number of daily cases in the last week with many of these driven by the variant, he added.
Asked if he thought the higher number of cases in the Philippines pointed to a surge and a community transmission, Abeyasinghe said it was a possibility.
“I cannot exclude the fact that there is limited community transmission in some places because we have very limited capacity for whole-genome sequencing. So there may be, there is community transmission,” he said.
But he added that the question of whether there was a surge or community transmission was not important.
“We need to recognize that we are facing a risk because of a highly transmissible variant of the disease. We need to implement measures now, that [is] what is most important,” Abeyasinghe said.
Higher bed capacity
According to Vergeire, Health Secretary Francisco Duque III has ordered a 50-percent expansion in bed capacity for public hospitals and 30 percent for private facilities.
Four major government hospitals in Metro Manila—Lung Center of the Philippines, National Center for Mental Health, Quirino Memorial Medical Center and East Avenue Medical Center—were also expected to allocate 200 beds each for their intensive care units.
The average daily reported cases in the capital region have gone up to 1,535, a hike of 65 percent over the previous week, Vergeire said. Metro Manila, which is one of the areas classified as high risk, will undergo a two-week strict lockdown from Aug. 6 to 20.
Vergeire added that all 16 cities and the lone municipality of Pateros had reported positive two-week growth rates, with Pateros and Malabon at critical risk because of their two-week growth rate and average daily attack rate (Adar), or the proportion of infected cases against the rest of the population.
Aside from Metro Manila, also classified as high risk were Regions 1, 2, 7 and 10, as well as the Cordillera Administrative Region, based on their moderate two-week growth rate and high-risk Adar.
Vergeire said the impact of the Delta variant was now being observed nationally and in select regions and areas.
Half of the country’s provinces, highly urbanized cities and independent component cities had reported an increase in the number of COVID-19 cases and in their health-care utilization, she added.
She advised hospitals to stockpile essential COVID-19 medicines and ensure a 30-day buffer for personal protective equipment, reagents and other medical supplies.
As of Tuesday, the DOH said it had recorded 6,879 additional COVID-19 cases, which brought the country’s total case count to 1,612,541.
There remained 63,137 active cases, of which 94 percent were mild; 13 percent, asymptomatic; 1.2 percent, critical; 2.1 percent, severe and 1.46 percent, moderate.
Tuesday’s case count was the first time in five days that new cases were below 8,000. However, the DOH attributed this to the lower number of samples for testing received on Sunday.
There were 6,337 additional recoveries, which brought the total number of survivors to 1,521,263. But there were 48 fatalities, for a total death toll of 28,141.
—WITH REPORTS FROM LEILA B. SALAVERRIA, JEROME ANING, INQUIRER RESEARCH, PATRICIA DENISE M. CHIU AND ROY STEPHEN C. CANIVEL
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