The omicron surge in Asia and the data for 01.30.2022

The weekend closes with late data coming in from the Health Agency with 16,953 new cases. Back in the previous surges, these numbers would have been catastrophic equivalent to ECQ or MECQ category. I recall back in March 2020, when we had only a handful of COVID-19 cases, the NCR was in total lockdown for 3 months. Now, with even 3000 cases in NCR, the government has declared Alert Level 2 just in time for the Chinese New Year and Valentine’s Day.

Today’s cases are based on more than 56,000 tests with a positivity rate of 31.4%, the latter being dragged due to the lower testing in the provinces outside of NCR. With more recoveries than cases, the active cases now drop to a little above 202,000.

Health care utilization in general is at low risk (but that is not true in many provinces because vaccination rate in other areas is still way below the target).

There are 20 added deaths today.

NCR led todays count with 2008 cases or 12% of the total shares in the country. Quezon City had 391 cases while the City of Manila came in second with 298. All other LGUs had less than 200 cases with 8 LGUs reporting double digits and Pateros reporting only 4 cases.

Outside of NCR, Region 6 led with most cases at 2003 followed by CALABARZON 1913, Davao Region 1466, Northern Mindanao 1224, Central Visayas 1202, Central Luzon 1056, and Ilocos Region 1040.

Among all LGUs in the country, Davao City had the most cases with 650.

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From Prof. Guido David (OCTA Research), the risk levels for NCR and CALABARZON shows the rapid decline in the weekly cases as the ADAR dips as well. Notice that the positivity rate is much lever than the national average of 33.3% in NCR, Batangas, Cavite and Rizal. The drivers of testing include: number of testing facilities and the financial capacity of the people in the area. In addition, because of the mild presentation of majority of patients with Omicron, many forego testing and simply wait out the clinical symptoms. The positivity rate in Laguna is highest in these regions.

Reproduction rate is also lowest in NCR, while Healthcare utilization rate is low in all these areas.

THE WEEK IN REVIEW

We continue to track the pandemic in the Asian region and the one week interval has dramatically changed the landscape of an omicron surge.

In the Philippines, as the needle rise of cases, the 7-day average of cases drop to 22000. While this is an under report (the country only counts cases with RT-PCR results from accredited laboratories, while Rapid Antigen Tests both self tested and laboratory or healthcare performed are not included), it represents a good sampling size of the graph of the surge.

The Department of Health has also confirmed that the National Capital Region plus (CALABARZON and Central Luzon) is seeing a marked decline in cases and the cases have now shifted to the provinces and other regions outside of these regions. More than 50% of testing facilities are located in these three regions alone. Which means that we may not be seeing the actual numbers of COVID-19 outside of NCR plus because of much lower testing (see infographic of OCTA Summary above).

Deaths are late reports and while backlogs come in, the Philippines reports a 7-day average of 70 deaths, lower than the delta surge, but nevertheless still high because of the low vaccination in regions outside of NCR and Highly Urbanized Cities (HCUs) where the vaccine roll out is more organized and where vaccine acceptance is higher.

The reproduction rate of the Philippines is down to 0.92 (+/- 0.05). This means that the numbers have plateaued and we will continue to see a declining trend in the week to come. Hopefully, the government did not make a rash decision in transitioning to Alert Level 2 very quickly in NCR plus. Remember, the cases reported still have a very high positivity rate (>20%) because people are not testing anymore (or even if they are are not being counted because only RT-PCR results are counted by the government). This free-for-all concept may not capture the real number of cases in the epicenter of the Philippines, and is estimated to be even 8-10x the actual numbers reported by the government.

Of course, the argument there can be that with the shortened mild course of omicron, the decline in cases is also as rapid as its increase and before the PCR results are out, majority the cases would have recovered.

Compared to the other countries in Southeast Asia and select Asian nations (Japan and South Korea), the Reproduction rate is highest in Indonesia, followed by Singapore, South Korea and Japan for this week. These countries are seeing the nth wave (for example Japan is in its 5th wave) and, except for Indonesia, are seeing the highest numbers in the pandemic. With the Rt of Indonesia now at 2.33, the country prepares for an estimated 100,000 daily cases in the next week or two.

As reference, based on population size (per capita), it is Singapore that has an overwhelming number of cases at 807 followed by Japan, South Korea and the Philippines. Indonesia is at 20 per million population (>11,000 new daily cases) and at the bottom of the list, mainly due the sheer size of the people in the 4th most populous nation in the world.

How the upcoming week eventually evolves with the Chinese New Year on February 1 will be an interesting development particularly in Asia, where this is a major celebration .

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