PHILIPPINE health authorities expect a spike in coronavirus infections during the holidays in the absence of restrictions.

Daily infections could hit 1,114 to 2,294 by the end of December, while active cases could reach 18,000, the Department of Health (DoH) said on Tuesday.

“With increased mobility, social gatherings and eased restrictions, we expect spikes to occur,” Althea R. de Guzman, director of the agency’s Epidemiology bureau, told a forum streamed live on YouTube. “But there should not be any significant increase in our hospitalization rates.”

She said existing vaccines could help minimize hospitalizations even after new variants enter the country.

Edsel Maurice T. Salvaña, a member of DoH’s technical advisory group, told the same forum coronavirus deaths would remain low as long as vaccination and boosting rates are pushed.

He added that using face masks could still prevent outbreaks, decrease cases and protect people from other respiratory illnesses.

“We will have good Christmas holidays if we continue to protect one another,” Mr. Salvaña said.

The Health department said last week it had detected the first 14 cases of the BQ1 Omicron subvariant in the country.

On Monday, Mr. Salvaña told a televised new briefing health authorities had yet to determine if the new variant is a more severe form of the coronavirus. Daily infections would likely stay below 5,000 in December, he added.

The World Health Organization (WHO) first declared Omicron as a variant of concern on Nov. 26 last year.

The Philippines posted 8,004 coronavirus infections for Nov. 14 to Nov. 20, with a daily average of 1,143 cases, DoH said in a bulletin on Monday evening. There were 17 deaths from Nov. 14 to 27, it added.

The agency said 526 or 21.6% of 2,430 intensive care unit (ICU) beds were in use, while 5,169 or 25.2% of 20,508 non-ICU beds were occupied.

It added that 599 were severe and critical coronavirus patients or 9.3% of total admissions staying in hospitals.

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.

DoH said 73.59 million Filipinos have been fully vaccinated against the coronavirus, while 20.72 million people have received booster shots.

The OCTA Research Group on Sunday said daily coronavirus infections in the country could hit as many as 3,000 during the Christmas holidays.

The Philippines might tally 2,000 to 3000 daily coronavirus cases in December, OCTA Research Group fellow Fredegusto P. David said in a Facebook Messenger chat.

OCTA also expects a significant increase in severe and critical cases, though hospital use rate was unlikely to exceed 30%, he added.

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

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

The WHO earlier said global weekly coronavirus cases dropped by 5% on Nov. 14 to 20 from a week earlier, with more than 2.4 million new cases reported. Weekly deaths fell by 13% to 7,800.

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.”

“It is important to ramp up vaccination efforts to maintain a high immunity wall to keep the public protected from severe or critical disease and death, even with the emergence of highly transmissible variants,” Ms. De Guzman said. — John Victor D. Ordoñez