By Kyle Aristophere T. Atienza and Luz Wendy T. Noble, Reporters

HEALTH authorities urged local governments at the weekend to enforce targeted lockdowns instead of region-wide border closures to save the economy while trying to contain a more contagious Delta coronavirus variant.

“It’s very important for local government units to implement strict lockdowns in cities or provinces as necessary,” said Anna Lisa T. Ong-Lim, chief of the Infection and Tropical Disease Division of the Philippine General Hospital and a member of the Health department’s technical advisory group.

“Given the economic impact of imposing region-wide lockdowns, the response strategies are anchored on imposing localized or granular lockdowns,” she told a televised news briefing attended by President Rodrigo R. Duterte.

Ms. Ong-Lim also urged local governments to boost their disease surveillance and healthcare capacity amid the local transmission of the Delta variant from India.

“We need to work on the premise that every case that’s now detected is Delta so that we can act accordingly,” she said. “The strategy to manage a possible surge is to ensure that the healthcare system is actually ready regardless of the community quarantine classification.”

An overwhelmed healthcare system would make it difficult for cities to fight the virus, Edsel T. Salvana, director of the Institute of Molecular Biology and Biotechnology at the National Institutes of Health-University of the Philippines Manila, told the same briefing.

“We know Delta is more transmissible, it’s potentially deadlier and can spread faster,” he said. “But it is beatable with our minimum health standards, face shields, face masks, physical distancing and of course, we have to vaccinate everyone.”

DoH reported 5,479 coronavirus infections on Sunday, bringing the total to 1.54 million. The death toll rose to 27,224 after 93 more patients died, while recoveries increased by 5,573 to 1.46 million, it said in a bulletin.

There were 54,262 active cases, 93.4% of which were mild, 1.2% were asymptomatic, 2.3% were severe, 1.63% were moderate and 1.4% were critical.

The agency said five duplicates had been removed from the tally, three of which were tagged as recoveries. Fifty recoveries were reclassified as deaths. Three laboratories failed to submit data on July 23.

Mr. Duterte last week approved a recommendation by an inter-agency task force to tighten quarantines in the National Capital Region (NCR) and other virus-hit areas until end-July. He also banned travelers from Indonesia and Malaysia.

Fifty-five more people got infected with the Delta coronavirus variant — said to be 60% more contagious than the Alpha variant from the United Kingdom — bringing the total to 119, the Department of Health (DoH) said on Sunday.

Thirty-seven were local patients, 17 were returning migrant Filipinos and one was still being verified, it said.

Fourteen of the 37 were in Southern Luzon, eight in Northern Mindanao, six each in the capital region and Central Luzon, two in the Davao Region and one in Ilocos

DoH said 94 more people got infected with the Alpha variant, bringing the total to 1,775. It added that 179 more people have been infected with the Beta variant from South Africa, bringing the total to 2,019. 

Meanwhile, the OCTA Research Group from the University of the Philippines flagged rising infections in Manila, the capital and nearby cities.

The average number of daily cases in Metro Manila from July 18 to 24 increased to 897 from 627 a week earlier, it said in a report released on Sunday.

“The reproduction number in NCR continued to rise with new cases,” it said, noting that the reproduction rate in the region increased had to 1.29.

The capital region had an average of 897 new COVID-19 cases daily from July 18 to 24, 43% higher than a week earlier, it said. “The current trend in the NCR over the past week follows the trend from Feb. 14 to 21, when a surge was in its early stages.”

The positivity rate in the capital region increased to 7%, while hospital use and ICU use remained low, OCTA said.

Manila, Valenzuela, Makati, Caloocan and Las Piñas were experiencing rising infections. Valenzuela, Makati and Las Piñas were considered high risk areas.

OCTA also reported that Cagayan de Oro, where several cases of the Delta variant have been detected, “had a resurgence.” “Elsewhere in Mindanao, the trends in Davao City and General Santos have slowed down, although both are still classified as high-risk areas.”

OCTA said the reproduction number in Cebu City had increased to 1.9, while its daily infections have risen to 175.

“Elsewhere in Luzon, Laoag continues to be in near-critical state, with critical levels of infection, incidence and positivity rate,” it said. In Mariveles, Bataan, the trend in new cases has slowed, but local government units were still in critical risk.

OCTA said the average daily cases in the Philippines from July 18 to 24 had risen to 5,817 from 5,063 a week earlier.

Meanwhile, the country’s move to reimpose some restrictions was a necessary sacrifice to prevent another infection surge, analysts said.

“The costs incurred by this reinstatement of lighter quarantine protocols would create bigger benefits in the future as we are able to protect lives and prevent stricter quarantine protocols that will significantly slow down economic recovery,” Asian Institute of Management economist John Paolo R. Rivera said in a Viber message.

While the restrictions were a needed “trade off,” the uptick in Delta variant cases would affect the consumption-driven economy, said Michael L. Ricafort, chief economist at Rizal Commercial Banking Corp.

Philippine economic output shrank by a record 9.7% last year amid the pandemic, and recession was expected to continue for the fifth straight quarter after the economy fell by 4.2% in January to March.

Restaurant capacity was cut and gyms were ordered closed to contain infections. A curfew from 10 pm to 4 am was also reimposed. Children were again barred from going out.