THE PHILIPPINES on Wednesday said it had detected 32 more infections involving the highly contagious Omicron subvariant BA.5, bringing the total to 43.

Of the 32 patients, 16 have recovered and 14 were still under quarantine, Health Undersecretary Maria Rosario S. Vergeire told a virtual news briefing. “The outcomes of the rest are still being verified.”

Twenty-one patients came from Western Visayas, four each from Calabarzon and Metro Manila, and three from Central Luzon. “At the moment, the exposure of individuals is still unknown and travel histories are being verified.”

Ms. Vergeire said 30 of the patients have been fully vaccinated, one was partially vaccinated, while the vaccination status of the remaining patient was still being verified. 

She said further studies were needed to determine if the BA.5 subvariant was now spreading at the community level.

“We cannot say that for now,” she said. “We need scientific evidence for us to say there is community transmission happening. We still need a further review of all these cases so we can determine what type of transmission is already happening.”

While there has been a “notable increase” in infections in the Philippines, the country’s healthcare use rate remained at low-risk, Ms. Vergeire said.

She said 3,198 infections were logged from June 14 to 20, close to the number of cases reported in the third week of February, when the country was experiencing a coronavirus surge believed to have been driven by the Omicron variant.

The health official said the national positivity rate had increased to 3.1%, which is “similar to rates in the first half of March this year.”

Still, the country’s average daily attack rate remained at low risk, Ms. Vergeire said.

Metro Manila recorded a “sharp rise” in new COVID-19 cases, while the rest of Luzon and the Visayas have also shown an increase, Ms. Vergeire said.

Mindanao remained on a “low plateau” despite reporting an increase of fewer than 40 infections daily, she added.

Meanwhile, Health Secretary Francisco T. Duque III said infections in the National Capital Region could hit 2,000 by the middle or end of July.

Cases in Metro Manila “may reach 800 to 1,200 a day by the end of June or the first week of July,” he told DZBB radio, third-party projections. “That could peak at 1,500 to 2,000 some time maybe by mid-July or end of July. But after that peak, it may plateau at 800 to 1,200 cases per day.”

Ms. Vergeire said severe and critical cases in the capital region remained low despite increasing infections.

The Philippines posted 3,051 infections from June 13 to 19, 82% higher than a week earlier, health authorities said on Monday. Of the total, fewer than 1% or 15 were critical.

Ms. Vergeire on Monday noted that only the National Capital Region (NCR) had experienced a significant rise in infections.

The average daily infections in the capital region had risen to 255 from about 100, while the positivity rate increased to 4.4%, she said.

About 70 million Filipinos had been fully vaccinated against the coronavirus as of June 19, while 14.85 million people have received booster shots.

Coronavirus infections were unlikely to decline significantly anytime soon, OCTA Research Group fellow Fredegusto P. David told a televised news briefing on Tuesday.

The new infection peak in the capital region could happen in the first or second week of July, he added. The average daily attack rate in Metro Manila might increase to 1.7 from 1.6.

Metro Manila, an economic powerhouse that is home to more than 13 million people, is under the first level in a five-tier alert system, which is being updated every 15 days. Kyle Aristophere T. Atienza