Philippines confirms first Delta variant death amid vaccine drive

Discovery of more transmissible COVID-19 variant comes as strain’s rapid spread elsewhere in Southeast Asia.

At that current pace of vaccination, it would take 1.5 years or up to January 2023 to achieve herd immunity in the Philippines, according to the vaccine tracker Herd Immunity PH [File: Lisa Marie David/Reuters]

The Philippines has confirmed its first death and locally transmitted cases of the more infectious Delta coronavirus variant, the health ministry said on Friday, as the country attempts to ramp up its vaccination drive with almost 400,000 people injected on Thursday.

Of the 16 new COVID-19 cases found to have contracted the Delta variant, 11 were tagged as locally acquired, Health Under-secretary Maria Rosario Vergeire told a news conference.

One of the patients with the variant died after being rushed to a hospital in Manila, the capital, on June 28, Vergeire said.

Five of those who tested positive were Filipinos returning from the United Arab Emirates, Qatar and the United Kingdom.

Of the 11 local transmissions, at least six were detected in the southern island of Mindanao, two in the Metro Manila area, one in central Luzon and two in the central region of Visayas.


Previously, Vergeire had warned that the Delta variant could be 60 percent more transmissible than the Alpha variant. An Alpha transmission is said to infect four to five persons, while the Delta variant carrier can infect up to eight people.

Philippine authorities have been scrambling to try and stop the variant from spreading in the community after it has triggered a surge in infections across the region.

The variant, first detected in India, has been blamed as a key factor for a surge in cases not only elsewhere in the Asia Pacific but also in the United Kingdom.

The latest news on the spread of the Delta variant comes as Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte approved on Thursday the lifting of strict lockdown rules as of Friday in Metro Manila, the sprawling capital with an estimated population of 13 million people. The lockdown is also eased in four provinces surrounding the capital.

In those areas, business establishments such as restaurants and fitness centres are allowed to operate at 50 percent regular capacity.

Record vaccine shots

With the new variant confirmed in the country, Dr Carmencita Padilla, Chancellor of the University of the Philippines Manila Campus, said that it is critical to ramp up the vaccination in the country.

“Vaccination flattens the death, reduction of mobility reduces transmission,” Padilla said during an online forum on Friday.

As for Friday, the government’s task force on vaccination reported its highest record of shots administered in a day at least twice this week.

Some 375,000 people were injected on Monday and another 391,000 people on Thursday, according to the vaccination chief implementer Vince Dizon.

“Although our supply is not yet sufficient, our local government units, provincial governments, the private sector show that we can vaccinate many people quickly,” he said.

The government aims to hit herd immunity this year by vaccinating between 58 to 70 million of the country’s 110 million population.

The Philippines reported on Friday that a record 391,000 people received the COVID vaccines on Thursday [Ted Aljibe/AFP]

But according to the latest report by the vaccination tracker, Herd Immunity PH, less than 10 percent have so far received their first dose, while 3.67 percent are fully vaccinated as of Thursday.

At that pace, it would take 1.5 years or up to January 2023 to achieve herd immunity, the vaccine tracker said.

Dr Franco Felizarta, an infectious disease and internal medicine specialist based in the US and a graduate of the University of the Philippines, said that for a country to reach herd immunity against the Delta variant, it needs at least 80 percent of the population inoculated against COVID.

So far, the Philippines has taken delivery of some 22 million COVID vaccines, including 13 million Sinovac doses from China. At additional 1.15 millino doses of the AstraZeneca vaccine arrived in the country on Friday, while 1.5 million more Sinovac doses are expected on Saturday.

Next to Indonesia, the Philippines has the second highest COVID-19 tally in Southeast Asia, with some 1.49 million coronavirus infections and over 26,000 deaths. An additional 5,676 new cases were also reported on Friday with 162 deaths.

Among the latest fatality was a four-day-old baby from the northern province of Ilocos Norte, according the the Philippine Daily Inquirer on Friday.

The newborn likely would be the youngest COVID fatality in the Philippines. He tested positive fro the disease only last Wednesday, three days after being born. At the beginning of the pandemic last year, at least two infants died of the disease, while a 16-day-old baby survived.

Source: Al Jazeera and news agencies