Metro Manila tallies record daily Covid-19 infections despite new restrictions

The Philippines' Health Ministry reported 11,563 cases in Metro Manila on Jan 6, 2022. PHOTO: AFP

MANILA - The Philippine capital saw a record increase in Covid-19 infections on Thursday (Jan 6), as the extremely infectious Omicron variant continued spreading despite the government's efforts to contain it with a new round of restrictions.

The Health Ministry reported 11,563 cases in Metro Manila - an urban sprawl of 16 cities and home to more than 13 million.

The positivity rate in the area had risen to 45 per cent as at Tuesday, according to data scientists with the Octa Research group. That meant almost one in two who were tested for Covid-19 were found to be positive.

Thursday's infection number eclipsed Metro Manila's previous high of 9,031 on Sept 11, 2021, during a deadly outbreak of another contagious strain, Delta.

The capital region accounted for about 68 per cent of the 17,220 cases nationwide reported on Thursday.

Octa senior fellow Guido David said that given the surge in Metro Manila alone, infections across the country could surpass 20,000 a day by Friday (Jan 7). "The surge has yet to peak," he said.

With close to 2.9 million cases and about 51,700 deaths so far, the Philippines has the second-worst Covid-19 outbreak in South-east Asia, after Indonesia.

Signs of an Omicron-fuelled community transmission have been showing up everywhere in Metro Manila.

With infections soaring fivefold since Dec 25, hospitals are seeing admissions go up. The Health Ministry's daily tracker showed that about half of ward, intensive care and isolation beds in Metro Manila were already occupied.

The Philippine General Hospital, the largest state-run hospital, said on Thursday that it was closing its maternity ward for up to two days because of a surge in Covid-19 patients. It also disclosed that many of its staff were testing positive.

A spokesman said the hospital currently has about 200 Covid-19 patients, up from only 30 on Dec 25.

Pharmacies are running out of paracetamol and other flu medications.

More than 140 workers at Metro Manila's rail lines and postal offices have tested positive. Courts have suspended work because of infections among staff.

Enchanted Kingdom, a popular amusement park an hour south of the capital Manila, has again shut its doors. The country's top basketball league has also postponed all games indefinitely.

Politicians running in this year's elections have suspended their campaigns, including Vice-President Leni Robredo and former senator Ferdinand Marcos Jr, who are both running for president.

An annual procession that normally draws millions of Catholic devotees accompanying a black wooden statue of Jesus Christ through the streets of Manila was scrapped.

The Black Nazarene procession is one of the country's largest religious festivals. Unlike last year, there will be no in-person masses in the church housing the centuries-old statue, and police will be deployed to discourage people from gathering outside the building.

Devotees outside the closed gates of of Manila's Quiapo church, which houses the Black Nazarene statue, on Good Friday in 2020 during a lockdown. PHOTO: ST FILE

More law enforcers, meanwhile, are being deployed to weed out fake vaccination cards with random checks and to make sure those on mandatory quarantine do not leave their hotels or isolation facilities.

Incidents of travellers skipping quarantine and possibly bringing the Omicron variant here have set off public outrage.

President Rodrigo Duterte has already placed Metro Manila on the third-highest level of alert from Monday (Jan 3) to Jan 15.

The government’s Covid-19 task force has barred those who have not been vaccinated from leaving their homes, except when there’s no one to buy essential items for them.

In a televised address on Thursday, Mr Duterte said those who had yet to take their Covid-19 shots should be arrested if they disobeyed stay-at-home orders.

Restaurants, churches, amusement parks, tourist attractions, beauty salons and fitness studios will open at lower capacities.

In-person classes, contact sports, funfairs and casinos were suspended, while localised lockdowns targeting specific buildings, streets and neighbourhoods will also be enforced.

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