THE PHILIPPINES reported 603 coronavirus infections on Sunday, bringing the total to 2.83 million.

The death toll hit 49,386 after 156 more patients died, while recoveries increased by 1,047 to 2.77 million, it the Department of Health (DoH) said in a bulletin.

There were 13,853 active cases, 1,270 of which did not show symptoms, 5,532 were mild, 3,903 were moderate, 2,410 were severe and 738 were critical.

The agency said 33% of the new deaths occured in November.

The Health department said six duplicates had been removed from the tally, six of which were reclassified as recoveries, while 115 recoveries were relisted as deaths.

It added that 116 patients had tested negative and were removed from the tally.

Two laboratories did not operate on Dec. 3, while four failed to submit data.

DoH said 26% of intensive care units in the Philippines were occupied, while the rate for Metro Manila was 28%.

Meanwhile, the government should buy treatment drugs targeting coronavirus variants including the newly detected Omicron from South Africa, molecular biologist Nicanor Austriaco told ABS-CBN Teleradyo.

Drugs made by Merck & Co., Inc. and Pfizer, Inc. “will attack all the variants equally well,” he said. “The Philippines has to try to buy these drugs.”

Mr. Austriaco, who is also part of the OCTA Research Group, said Pfizer’s paxlovid pill could significantly cut the risk of hospitalization or death and change the way the government manages the pandemic.

The local Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has issued a compassionate use permit allow the use of Merck’s investigational drug molnupiravir in several hospitals. The country received its first shipment of molnupiravir, which is sold under the brand name Lagevrio, in November.

“If you get the virus, even if it’s Omicron or something else, we’ll just give you the drugs,” the molecular biologist said. “You can take it at home — once in the morning, once at night.”

Last week, a panel of experts from the US FDA endorsed molnupiravir to treat COVID-19 after the pill proved effective against the respiratory illness.

Pfizer’s recent study on paxlovid also showed the drug could cut the chances of hospitalization or death for adults at risk from developing a severe coronavirus.

The anti-COVID pill may be prescribed by a doctor to senior citizens and seriously ill people, he said, adding that the drugs is taken twice a day for five days.

Mr. Austriaco said the drug is not recommended for young and healthy people, especially those who have been vaccinated against the coronavirus because their bodies can fight the virus.

“We anticipate that both of these drugs will be used in our hospitals probably in the next few weeks,” he said “Hopefully, it will be available around the world, including in the Philippines.”

Pfizer last month announced a deal to make paxlovid available more cheaply in the world’s least wealthy countries.

The drugmaker will sub-license production of the drug to generic drug makers for supply in 95 low- and middle-income nations covering about 53% of the world’s population, it said.

Under the deal with the global Medicines Patent Pool, Pfizer, which also produces one of the most widely used coronavirus vaccines with German lab BioNTech, will not receive royalties from the generic manufacturers, making the treatment cheaper. — KATA