The Delta variant of COVID-19—also known as the B.1.617 variant that was first identified in India—has become a cause for global concern as preliminary studies indicate that it spreads more easily.
On Monday, June 21, the Department of Health (DOH) said in a statement that four new cases of the Delta variant have been detected in the country. All of them are returning overseas Filipinos (ROF).
Based on the latest whole-genome sequencing report, the DOH said three of the four Delta variant cases are seafarers from the MV Eastern Hope, a ship currently docked in South Korea. While the the fourth case arrived from Saudi Arabia on May 24.
With these four new cases, the Philippines now logs a total of 17 cases of the more infectious Delta variant.
What we know so far about the Delta variant
The earliest documented case of the Delta variant was found in India in October 2020.
The Delta variant was designated by the WHO as the fourth “variant of concern” on May 11. Other variants of concern include Alpha (B.1.1.7, first documented in United Kingdom, Beta (B.1.351, first documented in South Africa), and Gamma (P.1, first documented in Brazil), cases of which were also reported in the Philippines.
Recently, WHO’s chief scientist Dr. Soumya Swaminathan said in a conference that the highly contagious variant is becoming the dominant COVID-19 variant worldwide. This is because of its “significantly increased transmissibility.”
With the variant’s rate of transmission, experts are concerned that it could overwhelm heatlhcare systems like the crisis in India if not controlled.
A Scottish study recently published in The Lancet medical journal revealed that the Delta variant has approximately double the risk of hospitalization compared to the Alpha variant. The study also found that people with comorbidities were at greater risk of hospital admission when infected by the variant.
When it comes to symptoms, data from Zoe Covid Symptoms Study app suggested that they may be changing due to the new variant. According to British epidemiologist Prof. Tim Spector, who leads the research, the symptoms that people are reporting through the app include headache, sore throat, runny nose and fever.
“Cough is rarer and we don’t even see loss of smell up coming up in the Top 10 anymore,” said Spector, who pointed out that when infected with the Delta variant, it would be more like a bad cold for the younger population. With this comes the risk that since they think it’s just a normal cold, they would not self-isolate and further spread the Delta variant.
How do the vaccines available in the Philippines work against the Delta variant?
As of June 18, the Philippines has administered over eight million doses of vaccines according to Our World in Data. The vaccines against COVID-19 that are currently being used in the country are Pfizer, AstraZeneca, Sinovac and Sputnik V.
A study published in The Lancet suggests that people who were inoculated with a COVID-19 vaccine were less likely to be hospitalized when infected with the Delta variant compared to those who have yet to be vaccinated. The study found that Pfizer jabs appear to provide 79 percent protection against the Delta variant.
A Public Health England (PHE) study awaiting peer review also found that the Pfizer vaccine was 94-percent effective against hospitalization after one dose and 96-percent effective after two doses. AstraZeneca was found 71-percent effective after one dose and 92-percent effective after two doses.
In a separate data published by PHE, the efficacy against symptomatic disease from the Delta variant for Pfizer was 88 percent two weeks after the second dose, while two doses of AstraZeneca vaccine were 60-percent effective.
For Sputnik V, the Russian Direct Investment Fund (RDIF)—the team behind the vaccine—claims its vaccine is “more efficient against the Delta variant of the coronavirus…than any other vaccine that published results on this strain so far.”
RDIF tweeted this claim on June 15 without publishing the result of the said study by the Gamaleya Center that was submitted for publication in an international peer-reviewed journal.
What is PH government doing to prevent transmission of Delta variant?
It was on May 11 when the Philippines recorded its first two cases of the Delta variant.
Among the steps that the country took to prevent the spread of the Delta variant include imposing a temporary travel ban on incoming passengers from India, Pakistan, Nepal, Bangladesh and Sri Lanka. This travel ban was extended until June 30 with the addition of Oman and the United Arab Emirates.
On Saturday, June 19, the Department of Health said that a uniform border control is important to prevent the spread of the highly transmissible Delta variant.
“Ang kailangan natin talagang gawin ngayon, ang pinaka-importante is our border control. Kailangan pare-pareho ang pagpapatupad natin across the regions at kung anuman ang nairekomenda natin base sa advice ng mga experts, ipatupad natin ng maayos,” Health Undersecretary Maria Rosario Vergeire said in a press briefing.
Vergeire also underscores that the country’s current protocols are working as the Delta variant cases were detected and properly quarantined, with the country’s border control measures. So far, there is no known community transmission in the country.
Currently, the Philippines implements a 10-day quarantine for inbound travelers, with swabbing on the seventh day from arrival. On Monday, June 21, Malacañang Palace said starting June 22, 1 a.m., Filipino inbound travelers who have been fully vaccinated in the Philippines will only need to quarantine for seven days in a government-approved quarantine hotel. They will no longer need to be swabbed if COVID-19 symptoms are not present.
Meanwhile, Cebu is implementing its modified quarantine rules for overseas Filipino workers and returning Filipinos, where they they could forgo quarantine if they tested negative for COVID-19 upon arrival.