By Brontë H. Lacsamana, Reporter

LOCKDOWNS have been lifted and the number of coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) infections have tallied below 1,000 cases daily for the past few days, giving hope that the worst is over.

Still, experts warned that Filipinos should expect the risk of mild COVID-19 reinfection.

“A repeat case of COVID means a person was infected, then recovered, then became infected again. The difference between the first and second infection should be at least 90 days or 3 months apart,” said Regina P. Berba, head of infection control at the Philippine General Hospital, at a webinar on March 4.

This definition of reinfection is based on the US Centers for Disease Control’s (CDC) official description last updated in January.

Of the 3,058 healthcare workers in PGH who were infected in the two-year span of the pandemic, 285 or 9.3% were reinfected, reported Dr. Berba. All the reinfections were mild or asymptomatic, she added.

“Fully vaccinated individuals and also those who have been previously infected have developed a good, robust immune response to reduce risk of reinfection, but of course this is not 100%,” she said, citing studies by the CDC.

With the high possibility of a new variant causing another surge in the future, recovered individuals may experience reinfection, as was the case with every wave of COVID-19 that the Philippines had since 2020.

“Reinfections happened a lot because of the evolution of variants,” she said. “Variants allowed the viruses to have increased transmissibility, and the mutations that happened allowed these viruses to evade the current immune system of the host.”

Dr. Berba reiterated that people must continue to wear masks and observe minimum health standards. Vaccination efforts, too, must continue despite the recent downward curve of infection.

On Sunday, OCTA research fellow Fredegusto P. David told ABS-CBN Teleradyo that another surge might occur in April or May since the country usually has a resurgence of cases every three months, with the most recent one in January caused by the Omicron variant.

Several factors can bring about a surge, including a new variant, large campaign period gatherings, complacency in following health rules, and waning immunity, he said.

Meanwhile, the Department of Health, on March 7, shifted to weekly COVID-19 bulletins from daily case tallies, attracting criticism.

In a tweet, Antonio C. Leachon, a doctor and former special adviser to the country’s pandemic task force said: “Weekly reporting is quite a long wait for the government and the people to react particularly on Alert Level 1 and campaign mode which could trigger surges due to mobility.”