DOH 'assumes' there is Delta variant community transmission in PH

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Metro Manila (CNN Philippines, August 3) — Despite the absence of evidence, the Department of Health believes there is a Delta variant community transmission in the country and it is driving the spike in COVID-19 cases.

"What we are doing right now is we assume there is community transmission already because we are seeing this (rise). Sans any evidence right now, we are going to do actions towards this direction that there is already community transmission," Health Undersecretary Rosario Vergeire told CNN Philippines' The Source on Tuesday.

"Sa tingin ho namin talaga (We think that) the Delta variant is driving the rise in the number of cases but of course there are still other variants like the Alpha and Beta which were also detected in most of the regions in the country," she added.

First detected in India, the Delta variant is reported to be much more transmissible than the Alpha variant discovered in the United Kingdom and the Beta variant first identified in South Africa. There are to date 216 Delta variant cases reported in the Philippines, 17 of which are active.

The World Health Organization said community transmission is divided into four levels, ranging from low incidence, moderate incidence, high incidence, to a very high incidence of locally acquired cases in the past 14 days.

Vergeire explained community transmission can be declared when there is no known linkage among individuals with the highly transmissible variant. The DOH is still waiting for further evidence from the Philippine Genome Center before finalizing its assessment. She also said that while cases in the Philippines are already "exponentially rising," the DOH is still waiting for developments to see if the country falls under any specific classification.

In a separate briefing, WHO country representative Dr. Rabindra Abeyasinghe stressed the importance of implementing crucial measures now such as the minimum public health standards, vaccinating senior citizens and persons with comorbidities, and increasing oxygen supply regardless of whether there is community spread or not.

"I cannot exclude that there is limited community transmission in some places because we have very limited capacity for whole genome sequencing." he said. "So it may be that there is community transmission."

"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," he added,

Vergeire said experts project that the 13,000 currently active cases in the capital region may rise to 18,000 to 30,000 active cases by end of September even with stricter restrictions in place. With no restriction imposed, the number of active cases may increase to as high as 500,000 next month. These figures are based on last week's COVID-19 situation, which means an updated projection may indicate possibly higher cases, Vergeire said.

Metro Manila will be under enhanced community quarantine from Aug. 6 to 20, in a bid to control the spread of the feared variant.