The Delta variant made Indonesia surpass India as the world’s Covid-19 epicenter, causing the Philippine government’s pandemic task force to extend the travel ban until end of the month on visitors from India, Indonesia, Pakistan, Nepal, Sri Lanka, Bangladesh, United Arab Emirates and Oman. 

The ban was supposed to expire on July 15 when first implemented by the Inter-Agency Task Force for the Management of Emerging Infectious Diseases to prevent the spread of the highly infectious Delta variant of the coronavirus. The Food and Drug Administration assured that Covid vaccines have some effectiveness against the dreaded variant. 

But on July 19 the Department of Health sounded the alarm on 16 new cases of the highly transmissible Delta variant, bringing the total to 34 and one death.  

President Duterte warned the public on July 19 that the government would be forced to re-impose stricter lockdowns should there be a surge in local cases of the deadly and highly-contagious COVID-19 Delta variant.

In his public address, the President expressed concern over the detection of 35 local cases of the Delta variant, which he described as “aggressive, vicious, and more virulent” than other virus types of COVID-19.

“The IATF is directed to further review and provide recommendations on the appropriate testing and quarantine protocols for travelers coming from the aforementioned countries, and such other countries/jurisdictions which may thereafter be identified as high risk,” presidential spokesman Harry Roque said at a briefing. 

Studies suggest the Delta variant spreads more quickly and seems to have stronger resistance to vaccines than other forms of COVID-19.

The two local cases of COVID-19 Delta variant detected in Antique are unvaccinated senior citizens, the DOH said. 

Ma. Sophia Pulmones, head of the Local Health Support Division of the DOH-Western Visayas regional office, noted at a public hearing that one of the two patients she identified as case number 34 is a 78-year-old woman. The other case or case number 35 is a 79-year-old man. Both have no history of foreign travel.

“So far, on the case investigation and the event-based report sent to us, these two Delta variant cases have not received any COVID-19 vaccine,” she added.

Pulmones said that case number 34 died last May 31 while case number 35 had completed a 14-day quarantine and tagged as recovered last June 13.

“The local government unit …is doing intensive contact tracing and then they are doing the back tracing. This means that they are tracing those who came in contact with the two Delta variant cases,” she added.

Earlier, DOH announced the detection of 16 new cases of Delta variants, 11 of whom are local cases, including the two Antique patients. This brings to 35 the total number of Delta variant cases recorded in the country.

DOH Undersec. Maria Rosario Vergiere asked local government units to strengthen their contact tracing activities to identify those infected or had come into contact with infected individuals.  Vergeire said hospitals should also allocate more beds for COVID-19 patients so they would not be overwhelmed if cases increase.