PH reports first three local cases of Omicron

The Philippines reported its first three local cases of the Omicron variant as per an announcement by acting presidential spokesperson Karlo Nograles.

Two of the patients in question are from Bicol: a 27-year-old female and a 46-year-old male who tested positive on December 14 and 15 respectively. The other patient is a 42-year-old male from Metro Manila who was found to be positive on December 3.

Although all three patients have since recovered, authorities continue to trace their close contacts.

Seven additional imported cases of the Omicron variant have also been detected of which six are returning overseas Filipinos and one is a Malaysian national.

Three of the cases arrived from the United States via Philippine Airlines flight PR 103 and PR 127 on December 15 and 16 respectively. Two arrived from the United Kingdom via connecting flights of Emirates Airlines flight EK 332 and Singapore Airlines flight SQ 910 on December 9 and 15 respectively. One case arrived from the United Arab Emirates via Philippine Airlines flight PR 659 on December 19 and the last arrived from Ghana through a connecting flight of Qatar Airways flight QR 930 on December 14.

Dr. Guido David of private polling, research, and consultation firm OCTA Research previously pointed out that the COVID-19 positivity and reproduction rate was rising in recent days. As per OCTA Research, the COVID-19 reproduction rate in Metro Manila has risen to 2.19 compared to 0.85 just four days ago.

The Philippines reported 2,961 new COVID-19 cases today after reporting 1,623 new cases yesterday to end a month of sub-1,000 daily COVID-19 cases.

NCR under Alert Level 3 from January 3 to 15

The National Capital Region (NCR) is to be placed under Alert Level 3 from January 3 to 15 following a recent sharp surge in COVID-19 cases.

Acting presidential spokesperson Karlo Nograles announced the decision at a press briefing in Davao City, citing that the Inter-Agency Task Force for the Management of Emerging Infectious Diseases (IATF) projected a further increase in new cases over the coming days.

Under Alert Level 3, establishments or activities are only allowed to operate or be undertaken at a maximum of 30% indoor venue capacity for fully vaccinated individuals and 50% outdoor venue capacity.

After a month of relatively low daily infections reported, the Philippines logged 1,623 COVID-19 cases on Thursday, December 30, 2021 and 2,961 on Friday, December 31, 2021.

NEWS ALERT: PH detects first two cases of Omicron COVID-19 variant

Source: Centers for Disease Control and Prevention

The Philippines has detected its first two cases of the Omicron (B.1.1.529) variant from travelers who recently arrived from Japan and Nigeria.

The two cases were detected from 48 samples sequenced on December 14, 2021 as per the Department of Health (DOH) in a statement released at noon today.

The first patient is from a Filipino who returned from an overseas trip to Japan last December 1, 2021. As per the DOH, the patient is currently asymptomatic despite showing symptoms of colds and cough upon arrival.

The second patient is a Nigerian national who arrived from Nigeria last November 30, 2021. As per the DOH, the patient is also currently asymptomatic.

The DOH assured that both patients are currently isolated in a facility managed by the Bureau of Quarantine (BOQ).

NEWS ROUNDUP: Omicron, BSP expected to keep policy rates low

DOH: Omicron has “high chance” of spreading to the Philippines

In a Laging Handa briefing conducted last Saturday, December 11, 2021, Department of Health (DOH) Undersecretary Maria Rosario Vergeire acknowledged the high chance of the Omicron (B.1.1.529) variant entering the country: “From the start, sinabi na natin, hindi naman po natin masasabi at hindi natin sasabihin din na hindi makakapasok. Ang pinag-uusapan natin diyan: kung kailan.”

(From the start, as we have acknowledged, we could not definitely say that it would not be able to enter. The question has been when it will enter.)

“Mataas po ang tiyansa na maaaring makapasok dito sa atin at tayo naman po ay nag-pre-prepare,” Undersecretary Vergeire added, urging continued adherence to health and safety protocols.

(There’s a big chance it will enter the country although we continue to prepare.)

The Omicron variant of SARS-CoV-2 was first reported in South Africa on November 24, 2021. The World Health Organization (WHO) designated Omicron a variant of concern on November 26, 2021.

On December 2, 2021, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) released an updated science brief regarding the Omicron variant reiterating the following considerations as previously acknowledged by the World Health Organization (WHO):

  • It remains unclear if the Omicron variant is more transmissible than the Delta (B.1.617.2) variant, although the CDC noted that the Omicron variant had become the predominant variant in South Africa where the variant was first discovered.
  • It remains unclear if infection with the Omicron variant leads to more severe disease compared to other previous variants, although preliminary information from South Africa noted no unusual symptoms for those infected with the Omicron variant.
  • It remains unclear if currently available COVID-19 vaccines are less capable at neutralizing the Omicron variant.

On December 12, 2021, the Philippines reported 402 new COVID-19 cases, bringing its total active COVID-19 cases to 11,255.

BSP expected to keep policy rates low amid Omicron uncertainty

The Bangko Sentral ng Pilipinas (BSP) is widely expected to keep key policy rates low ahead of its policy-setting meeting on December 16, 2021 (Thursday).

This comes as the country braces for the potential entry of the Omicron variant which has spread to more than 50 countries since it was discovered on November 24, 2021.

The BSP has kept the interest rate on its overnight reverse repurchase facility at 2.0% since November 20, 2020 to help curb the economic impact of the COVID-19 pandemic.

NEWS ROUNDUP: Omicron, PH Economic Recovery, PSE rebounds

Omicron threat looms despite lower daily cases

The Omicron (B.1.1.529) variant of SARS-CoV-2 was first reported in South Africa on November 24, 2021. The Omicron variant was subsequently designated a variant of concern by the World Health Organization (WHO) on November 26, 2021.

A statement released by the WHO last November 28, 2021 suggests that the Omicron variant may be more transmissible even compared to the Delta (B.1.617.2) variant which caused a global COVID-19 case surge in mid-2021. However, it is still largely unclear if the Omicron variant causes a more severe disease compared to previous variants or if it is capable of rendering current COVID-19 vaccines ineffective.

As of December 6, 2021, no cases of the Omicron variant have been detected in the Philippines although twelve (12) COVID-positive samples were flagged to undergo genomic sequencing.

On December 8, 2021, the Philippines reported 370 new COVID-19 cases bringing the country’s total active cases to 12,510 as per the Department of Health (DOH), a significant decline since the case surge experienced last August to September 2021 even despite looser mobility restrictions. The country has also administered 94,236,990 COVID-19 vaccine doses in total as of December 8, 2021.

In a media forum held on December 6, 2021, Health Undersecretary Maria Rosario Vergeire claimed that the Philippines and the NCR were at minimal risk and low risk for COVID-19 respectively as the two-week growth rate stood at -57% and the average daily attack rate stood at 0.67 cases for every 100,000 individuals.

Philippine economy showing signs of recovery

Philippine Gross Domestic Product (GDP) managed to grow by 7.1% in the third quarter of 2021 even despite a COVID-19 case surge due to the spread of the Delta (B.1.617.2) variant last August and September 2021. In its October 2021 East Asia and Pacific Economic Update, the World Bank raised its GDP growth forecast for the Philippines to 5.3% on the strength of improved local economic conditions given progressing vaccinations and declining COVID-19 cases.

Meanwhile, Philippine headline inflation eased to 4.2% in November 2021 compared to 4.6% in October 2021 led by the slowdown in inflation for the food and non-alcoholic beverages index to 3.9% for the month of November 2021 against 5.3% for the month prior. This is slightly above the 3.0% (+/- 1.0%) annual headline inflation rate targeted by the Bangko Sentral ng Pilipinas (BSP).

Last November 18, 2021, the BSP also decided to keep the interest rate on its overnight reverse repurchase facility at 2.0% and interest rates on its overnight deposit and lending facilities at 1.5% and 2.5% respectively. As per its Q3 2021 Inflation Report, the BSP expressed its intentions of maintain an accommodative stance on monetary policy so long as it is appropriate given the manageable inflation environment and uncertain growth outlook.

Philippine Household Final Consumption Expenditure (HFCE) grew by 7.1% for the third quarter of 2021 against 7.3% for the quarter prior on higher household spending on food and non-alcoholic beverages (+3.0%), miscellaneous goods and services (+8.4%), transport (+13.5%), health (+18.8%), and education (+14.5%) as consumer confidence increased alongside loosening mobility restrictions.

Philippine national debt grew to PhP12.0 trillion in October 2021 from PhP10.3 trillion in January 2021 as the National Government sought to reinforce its COVID-19 war-chest.

Bourse recovers as Omicron fears subside

On December 9, 2021, the Philippine Stock Exchange Index (PSEi) improved by 179.73 or 2.6% to 7,234.92 compared to 7,055.19 on December 3, 2021, the last day of trading the week prior. The rebound comes after several days of volatility as investors reacted to Omicron variant fears.

Total approved foreign investments also declined to PhP16.82 billion in the third quarter of 2021 against PhP22.50 billion in the quarter prior (down 25.2%) as foreign investors remained cautious despite improving economic conditions given the approaching 2022 Philippine presidential elections.

Featured Image: Centers for Disease Control and Prevention