By Kyle Aristophere T. Atienza, Reporter

THREE more patients infected with the highly mutated Omicron coronavirus variant have died, bringing the total to five, Philippine health authorities said on Wednesday.

“We have five recorded deaths,” the Department of Health (DoH) said in a Viber group message. “Three were seniors and all have comorbidities.”

One was partially vaccinated, another was unvaccinated, and the remaining three were still up for verification.

The Health department reported the first two Omicron deaths on Jan. 19. One of them was from Metro Manila and the other was from Central Luzon. Both were more than 60 years old, unvaccinated and had serious illnesses.

The Philippines, which is battling a surge in infections spurred by the Omicron variant, has detected 535 Omicron cases among sequenced samples.

The spike earlier forced authorities to tighten the lockdown level in Metro Manila and other regions.

DoH earlier said the variant first detected in South Africa had become predominant in Metro Manila and other regions.

Cabinet Secretary Karlo Alexei B. Nograles said an inter-agency task force would decide at the weekend whether to lower the alert level in the capital region.

“We want to do it as close to Feb. 1 as possible,” he told the ABS-CBN News Channel. “Tomorrow, we will look at the numbers, perhaps we will have to make a decision over the weekend.”

Metro Manila will be under Alert Level 3 until the end of the month.

The Philippines posted 15,789 coronavirus infections on Wednesday, bringing the total to 3.48 million.

The death toll hit 53,664 after 66 more patients died, while recoveries rose by 32,712 to 3.19 million, DoH said in a bulletin.

It said 35.8% of 48,725 samples on Jan. 24 tested positive for COVID-19, way above the 5% threshold set by the World Health Organization (WHO).

There were 230,410 active cases, 6,902 of which did not show symptoms, 218,711 were mild, 2,982 were moderate, 1,507 were severe and 308 were critical.

The agency said 95% of the latest cases occurred on Jan. 13 to 26. The top regions with the most cases in the past two weeks were Calabarzon with 2,248, Metro Manila with 2,135 and Central Visayas with 1,520 infections. It added that 98% of deaths occurred in January and 2% in August.

DoH said 142 duplicates had been removed from the tally, 80 of which were reclassified as recoveries, while 10 recoveries were relisted as deaths. Three laboratories failed to submit data on Jan. 24.

It said 48% of intensive care unit beds in the country had been used, while the rate for Metro Manila was 42%.

The Philippines aims to vaccinate 77 million people before the end of this quarter.

Vaccine czar Carlito G. Galvez, Jr. earlier said the vaccination of children aged 5 to 11 against the coronavirus would start on Feb. 4.

The Philippine Medical Association on Wednesday asked the government to designate separate vaccination sites for children, noting that the vaccines given to minors and adults are different.

“Hopefully the vaccination for kids is separated from the adults because doses for adults have boosters, first dose and second dose, while the kids have different vials,” PMA President Benito Atienza told a televised news briefing.

He also asked the government to open the vaccination of kids on weekends to make it more convenient for working parents.

“Separate the vaccination centers for children and hold it on Saturdays so that they are free from work and are encouraged to bring their children,” Mr. Atienza said.

The Philippines had fully vaccinated almost 57.84 million people as of Jan. 25, while almost 59.98 million have received their first dose, data from the Health department showed. Almost 6.7 million booster shots have been given out, it added.