By Kyle Aristophere T. Atienza, Reporter

DAILY coronavirus infections in the Philippines could hit as many as 3,000 when Filipinos celebrate the Christmas holidays next month, according to a research group.

The country might record 2,000 to 3,000 daily coronavirus cases in December, OCTA Research Group fellow Fredegusto P. David said in a Facebook Messenger chat. “On Saturday, our daily cases already hit 1,874,” he said, citing a recent increase in infections.

OCTA also expects a significant increase in severe and critical cases. “It will lead to an increase in numbers but I don’t expect hospitals to become full or even exceed 30% of hospital care utilization rate,” he added.

Globally, the weekly coronavirus cases decreased by 5% during the week of Nov. 14 to 20 from a week earlier, with more than 2.4 million new cases reported, the World Health Organization (WHO) said in a weekly report released on Nov. 22. Weekly deaths fell by 13% to 7,800 it said.

Earlier this month, Mr. David told BusinessWorld that daily infections in the Philippines could fall to fewer than 500.

The Philippines posted 8,004 coronavirus infections for Nov. 14 to Nov. 20, with a daily average of 1,143 cases.

Mr. David had said daily cases in the country might rise if there were threats from new subvariants of the coronavirus.

Last week, health authorities said they had detected the first 14 cases of BQ1, a new Omicron subvariant.

In a statement on Saturday, the Department of Health (DoH) said new coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) variants and subvariants were expected.

“They will naturally emerge with continued transmission. Limiting the spread of COVID-19 and ensuring updated protection through vaccination is the definite way to prevent this emergence,” it said.

DoH said Filipinos should learn to live with the virus in the “new normal,” noting that “variants will continue to emerge.” “We have to start demystifying variants. Viruses naturally mutate with continued transmission — this is a natural occurrence.”

The agency said the country’s healthcare use rate remained low and the country is safe from the BQ1 subvariant threat.  The WHO  first declared Omicron as a variant of concern on Nov. 26, 2021.

Within four weeks, Omicron waves were felt across the world, replacing the highly contagious Delta as the dominant variant, the WHO said in a statement on Nov. 25.

It said that by March 2022, almost 90% of the global population had antibodies against the COVID-19 virus, whether through vaccination or infection. Still, Omicron caused a less severe disease than Delta on average.

While vaccines reduced the impact of Omicron vaccine effectiveness against infection, disease, hospitalization and death waned over time, it said.

“However, protection against hospitalization and death have remained high, preventing millions of people from dying.”

Health officer-in-charge Maria Rosario S. Vergeire said the Philippines should boost its local and international surveillance and data-sharing systems to ensure that the emergence of variants is “always captured, studied and used to update COVID-19 vaccines.”

All coronavirus vaccines remained effective in preventing severe and critical COVID-19, as well as death regardless of the variant, she said.

The country seeks to increase its vaccination rate and booster uptake amid the possible entry of more deadly variants and subvariants. 

The government is set to hold a three-day vaccination campaign on Dec. 5 to 7. To broaden the campaign, it has been coordinating with other organizations such as the Chinese community, malls, fast-food restaurants and private doctors.

The Philippines has fully vaccinated 73.71 million people, according to DoH data. About 21 million people have received booster shots.

The United States will donate $5 million (P284 million) to boost the Philippines’ vaccination drive, the White House said last week.

The US government said it would also invest $8 million to strengthen its global health security partnership with the Philippines to “help prevent avoidable outbreaks, detect health threats early and respond rapidly and effectively when outbreaks occur.”