Visayas and Mindanao could see a surge in COVID-19 cases on the heels of hundreds of thousands scrambling and crowding in evacuation centers due to Typhoon Odette, a former adviser to the National Task Force vs. COVID-19 warned Dec. 19.
"Inadvertently or unintentionally, puwede kang magkaroon ng violation ng social distancing measures," Dr. Tony Leachon told ABS-CBN's TeleRadyo, adding that the government should monitor the regions over the next two "critical" weeks. "Kasi kung nasa evacuation centers sila, hindi natin masisisi kung ang sanitation at face mask ay hindi kumpleto."
Leachon also took note of the difficulties in deploying COVID-19 vaccines in the Odette-stricken Visayas and Mindanao, but still stressed on the importance of making an "effort" to do so nonetheless, especially that the two major island groups' vaccination rate remains low.
Vaccine coverage in Visayas and Mindanao is still below the national average of 53%. Half of the Philippines's 110 million population has received at least one dose, with Metro Manila's most eligible residents already fully vaccinated against COVID-19.
"Alam ko na ang sentimyento at mood ng ating mga kababayan ay malungkot, nawalan ng bahay," Leachon said, "pero kunyari naka-settle down na sila sa evacuation center, dapat isa ito sa gawin natin...para ho sa ganoon ay hindi magkalat ang COVID diyan," he said, adding that those who are eligible for booster shots should be prioritized.
For the meantime, he urged local government officials to segregate evacuees via tents, provide more face masks and alcohol, and conduct rapid antigen testing.
"Wala na hong natira doon kung nasalanta...so sa mga supply po na ipapadala sa countryside, bigyan ho natin sila," he said.
Those who exhibit flu-like symptoms should also inform local doctors immediately so they can be quarantined, the health advocate added.
Leachon also asked the public to be "more vigilant than ever," especially after the country detected its first two Omicron variant cases.
"Alam ko nag-iingat tayong lahat, gusto nating magsaya," he said. "(But) I don't think we can endure another kind of surge, lalo na ngayong nagkabagyo."
Leachon also warned that it's "just a matter of time" that the country will see an Omicron outbreak.
"Based on history, doon sa atin sa original Wuhan strain sa January of 2020... ang tawag nila, index cases," Leachon said. "Tapos ganoon din iyong Delta, sometime in April, and then, kumalat din sila. So, kakalat din iyan (Omicron)."
The World Health Organization (WHO) in its technical brief last Dec. 13 said that current limited evidence suggests that Omicron variant has a "growth advantage" over the already infectious Delta variant, inasmuch as it "suggests a reduction" in vaccine efficacy.
"Given the current available data, it is likely that Omicron will outpace the Delta variant where community transmission occurs," the WHO said.
Dr. Aletheia De Guzman, officer in charge of the Department of Health (DOH)'s Epidemiology Bureau, earlier cited studies saying that one Omicron case can infect up to 10 people, vis-à-vis Delta's 8.
To date, the country's COVID-19 caseload is at over 2.8 million, about 9,900 of which are active. About 43.9% of the active cases are mild and asymptomatic, the DOH noted.
Of the 9,900 active infections, Visayas accounts for around 1,600 of them. Mindanao, meanwhile, has 2,100.