Manila in lockdown as Delta cases soar in Philippines

The more aggressive Delta variant of Covid-19, detected in the Philippines in mid-July, has spread across much of the country, reaching 13 of 17 regions, health officials have said.

On Sunday, the Philippines reported a sharp rise in daily Covid fatalities, with 287 deaths, the highest daily increase in four months. A further 9,671 new infections were also confirmed.

The national capital region of Manila, home to almost 14 million people, was placed under lockdown last week in an attempt to slow the spread of the Delta variant.

The variant has led to record case numbers in countries across south-east Asia, and it is feared the Philippines could experience a similar rise. The country’s cases had fallen after a severe outbreak four months ago but Covid transmission has begun to increase.

“We saw a decline since our peak in cases in the first week of April, but since mid-July cases started to slowly rise again,” said the Department of Health undersecretary Maria Rosette Vergeire⁩ on Monday. It is probable cases would increase further, she added, as it would take two to three weeks for the newly imposed restrictions to affect case numbers.

Vergeire⁩ said there had been an almost 50% increase in cases nationally over the past fortnight, compared with the previous two weeks, and that the country’s Covid situation was considered “high risk”. The rise in cases was most marked in Metro Manila, which is made up of 16 cities, all of which have detected Delta cases.

The restrictions imposed on Friday in the national capital region will last until 20 August and are set at the strictest level used by the Philippine authorities. Only authorised people, including those buying food, travelling for medical reasons, or frontline workers, are allowed to go outside.

The day before lockdown was introduced, thousands rushed to vaccination centres and queued for hours in the hope of getting a jab. Rumours had spread that unvaccinated people would not be allowed to claim government aid or go outside, according to local media.

The president, Rodrigo Duterte, previously threatened to arrest people who were not vaccinated, and recently warned that unvaccinated people would not be permitted to leave their homes. However, a person’s vaccination status does not affect the restrictions they face under lockdown. About 10% of the population has been fully vaccinated.

The Delta variant has spread rapidly across south-east Asia, including in countries that avoided the worst of the pandemic last year. Outbreaks have placed intense pressure on health systems and forced governments to reintroduce lockdown measures in areas that are the hardest hit. Indonesia, Thailand, Malaysia and Vietnam have reported record cases over recent weeks.

The Philippines has recorded more than 29,100 deaths since the start of the pandemic, one of the highest death tolls in south-east Asia.