By Kyle Aristophere T. Atienza, Reporter
and Alyssa Nicole O. Tan

A MORE contagious Delta coronavirus variant has worsened the pandemic situation in the Philippines, with 16% of its hospitals nearly full, according to Fitch Solutions Country Risk and Industry Research.

Of 1,291 hospitals in the country, more than 200 have reached critical levels amid a fresh surge in infections spurred by the Delta variant from India, it said in a report.

Twenty-five of 159 hospitals in Metro Manila, which is under a strict lockdown from Aug. 6 to 20, are also nearly full, it added.

“With only 9.9% of the population fully vaccinated as of Aug. 5, the country remains a long way off from reaching herd immunity such that it can ease preventative measures more significantly,” Fitch Solutions said.

The slow vaccine rollout and setbacks in containing the pandemic would delay the country’s goal of achieving universal healthcare, it added.

Health Undersecretary Maria Rosario S. Vergeire said coronavirus infections nationwide increased by 45% in the previous week.

The spike was being felt in the National Capital Region, Central Luzon, Southern Tagalog, Western Visayas and Central Visayas, she told a televised news briefing on Tuesday.

Rising infections were being experienced across all age groups, she added. There was a 74% increase in infections among children aged up to nine years, and a 60% increase among kids aged 10 to 19 years, Ms. Vergeire said.

The Department of Health (DoH) reported 10,035 coronavirus infections on Tuesday, bringing the total to 1.77 million.

The death toll rose to 30,462 after 96 more patients died, while recoveries increased by 10,858 to 1.63 million, it said in a bulletin.

There were 105,787 active cases, 96.1% of which were mild, 0.9% did no show symptoms, 1.3% were severe, 90% were moderate and 0.7% were critical.

The agency said 206 duplicates had been removed from the tally, 201 of which were tagged as recoveries. Thirty-nine recoveries were tagged as deaths. Six laboratories failed to submit data on Aug. 15

“As the number of COVID-19 (coronavirus disease 2019) cases quickly increased, the lack of and strain on health resources and personnel revealed the weaknesses of the country’s healthcare system,” Fitch Solutions said.

There are, on the average, 3.7 doctors for 10,000 people in the Philippines. This is below the World Health Organization-prescribed ratio of 1 doctor for 1,000 people, according to the University of the Philippines COVID-19 pandemic response team.

It also cited a “regional discrepancy” in the bed-to-population ratio, which was 1:1,121 nationwide. There is one bed for 591 people in Metro Manila, but in Mindanao, there is only one bed for 4,200 people, it said.

“These shortages in medical facilities and personnel are due to the government’s low prioritization of the health sector as seen in the national budget,” Fitch Solutions said.

While the health sector budget increased to P185.5 billion in 2020 from P177.7 billion in 2019, its overall share in the national budget had fallen to 4.5% from 4.9%, the research firm said.

It cited cuts to much-needed health programs that could have boosted the country’s pandemic response.

Fitch Solutions said the coronavirus pandemic would delay the country’s goal of achieving universal healthcare.

Funding sources for the country’s universal health care program are “under pressure” due to the falling excise tax collections, which are used to subsidize healthcare costs, and “a global wave of job losses and pay cuts” that threatens collections from Filipino workers at home and abroad.

Philippine health authorities on Sunday reported the detection of the country’s first case of the Lambda coronavirus variant, which is believed to be more resistant to vaccines.

Health experts have said the Lambda variant might have spread across the country before being detected. The country is having a hard time detecting variant cases because of its limited genomic surveillance, they said.

“Genomic surveillance is highly dependent on the quality and efficiency of coronavirus testing, which is still not at ideal levels,” said Joshua L. San Pedro, convenor of the Coalition of People’s Right to Health.

He said the Health department’s target of at least 90,000 tests daily had not been met.

“It is from the PCR tests that DoH collects samples for genome sequencing,” the medical doctor said in Facebook Messenger chat. “If there are not enough samples from all over the country, then the sampling method might not be as robust.”

Meanwhile, Senator Juan Miguel F. Zubiri has filed a resolution seeking a probe of delays in multi-party agreements between the government and entities seeking to buy coronavirus vaccines.

He asked the Senate Committee of the Whole to investigate reports that agreements submitted by local governments and private companies had been left unsigned.

“Their number one concern has been the delay on delivery and the unavailability of vaccines in far-flung areas,” the senator said in a statement. “As it stands, no one knows what’s causing the delays, and it’s frustrating.”