The Department of Health (DOH) has confirmed that there's already a community transmission of the highly transmissible COVID-19 Omicron variant in Metro Manila.
"Dito po sa National Capital Region, we are seeing community transmission nitong Omicron variant," DOH spokesperson Maria Rosario Vergeire said in the Jan. 15 Laging Handa public briefing. "Bagama't di nakakahabol itong ating whole genome sequencing, we already have determined that there are local cases already."
Citing DOH data, Vergeire said the capital is already averaging 17,000 COVID-19 cases daily this week, compared to last week which saw 6,500 average cases per day.
"Sa nakikita nating trend ngayon, ito talaga ang nakikita nating characteristics ng Omicron variant," she said, "iyong mabilis na pagkalat, iyong steep rise in the number of cases."
Vergeire also noted that the COVID-19 numbers outside of Metro Manila are slowly picking up. She, however, stressed that the recent increase in new daily cases isn't the peak just yet.
"Baka po mangyari, sa dulo ng buwan na ito," she said. "Or even later, about second week of February."
Independent pandemic monitor OCTA Research had earlier forecast that new daily infections will peak during the second week of January, before tapering off toward next month similar to the experience in South Africa, where Omicron was first detected.
To date, the country has 43 Omicron cases on record.
The DOH earlier cited studies saying that one Omicron case can infect up to 10 people, versus Delta's 8.
Genome sequencing also showed that Omicron has over 30 mutations in the spike protein, compared to Delta's 18. This makes it immune to vaccine-induced antibodies and causes more breakthrough infections.
Still, the Philippine Genome Center on Jan. 11 said that Delta remains to be the most dominant COVID-19 strain in the country. There are 8,497 Delta variant cases on record.
Vergeire, however, warned that Omicron will replace Delta as the most dominant variant soon, "kung magtutuluy-tuloy ang ganitong klaseng transmission."
In a bid to curb the spread of infections in Metro Manila amid Omicron fears, mayors have mandated unvaccinated adults and minors to stay at home, unless it's for essential travel.
The Department of Transportation, meanwhile, imposed a "no vaccine, no ride" policy in the capital starting Jan. 17, as long as it would remain under Alert Level 3 or higher.
Metro Manila will stay under Alert Level 3 until the end of the month, during which several establishments may accept fully vaccinated adults indoors at 30% capacity. Outdoor settings may cater to anybody at half capacity.
As of Jan. 14, Metro Manila has over 147,000 active cases, which accounts for over half of the country's 265,000 total active cases. The virus epicenter also accounts for around a million of the national COVID-19 tally, which has already stood at over 3.1 million.
That day, the DOH reported 37,207 new COVID-19 cases in yet another all-time high, surpassing Jan. 13's previous tally of 34,021 fresh daily infections in a single day since the onset of the pandemic. It also marked the third straight day of new active cases over the 30,000 mark.
To date, about 55% of 1,100 intensive care unit beds, 55% of 4,800 isolation beds, and 67% of 4,400 ward beds in Metro Manila have been occupied, for an average bed occupancy rate of 59%.
Last week, Jan. 7, about 48% of its 1,100 intensive care unit beds, 47% of its 4,800 isolation beds, and 59% of its 4,400 ward beds are being used, for an average bed occupancy rate of 51%.
Based on DOH standards, healthcare systems are classified as "high risk" if bed occupancy rates surpass 70%. When this happens, the national government said Alert Level 4 may be implemented. Under the measure, only up to 10% indoor capacity indoors for fully vaccinated individuals and 30% outdoors will be allowed.