MANILA - The Philippines has hit another grim milestone, tallying more than three million Covid-19 infections so far as the highly transmissible Omicron variant of the coronavirus tears through the capital and surrounding cities as well as provinces.
The Health Ministry reported 28,007 new cases on Tuesday (Jan 11), bringing the country's total to 3.03 million.
That marked a retreat from three days of record new cases. On Monday, the caseload reached an all-time high of 33,169.
Health officials, though, are wary of signalling that the surge may be slowing and nearing its peak.
The Philippines is the second worst-hit by Covid-19 in South-east Asia, after Indonesia, but it has been tallying the most number of daily infections at about 30,000 since the start of the year.
Vietnam has recorded around 15,000 a day while Thailand, which is also experiencing a surge, has about 8,000 daily infections. Indonesia has seen Omicron cases tripling in a week, with the health ministry saying the number hit 414 on Saturday.
Philippine Health Secretary Francisco Duque has warned that the country remained at "critical risk" with the seven-day average caseload rising by 690 per cent and a two-week growth rate of up to 3,663 per cent.
But there may be signs of the surge stalling.
Health Undersecretary Maria Rosario Vergeire said the coronavirus seemed to be spreading at a much slower rate, with cases now doubling in three to four days from 2.2 previously.
Dr Guido David, a senior research fellow with the independent Octa Research group, said: "There is hope that the positivity rate is now stalling or it is close to the peak... If the (Metro Manila rate) starts to peak, we may see a downward trend by next week."
But he believed it was too soon to say if the surge had indeed reached a peak, noting that while infections seemed to be slowing down in Metro Manila, cases were still climbing elsewhere.
The Health Ministry reported that hospitals were seeing far less Covid-19 patients than during the surge fuelled by the more deadly Delta variant in September and October last year.
It said most of those being admitted at hospitals were, in fact, "incidental patients" who showed up at emergency rooms with other ailments such as appendicitis or a stroke, or had been in a traffic accident, but were later found to have the coronavirus.
More than half of the hospital beds in Metro Manila are currently occupied, which the government sees as still acceptable, considering the explosion in cases in recent weeks.
Dr John Wong, an epidemiologist and adviser to the Health Ministry, said hospital use was 60 per cent lower than when the country was in the grip of the Delta outbreak.
The difference is that more people are vaccinated now. "Vaccination is protecting Metro Manila from high hospitalisation rates," he said.
Mr Karlo Nograles, the spokesman for President Rodrigo Duterte, told reporters the government was ready to elevate its response with more mobility restrictions should hospitals report 70 per cent occupancy.
But that seemed unnecessary right now, he said.
"We still haven't reached the threshold," said Mr Nograles.