(UPDATED) There are no local Gamma or Delta variant cases in the Philippines yet, but 14 regions already have local Alpha variant cases while 15 regions have Beta variant cases.

All 17 Delta variant cases and two Gamma cases involved returning overseas Filipinos, Dr. Eva Maria Cutiongco-de la Paz, executive director of the University of the Philippines - National Institutes of Health (UP-NIH), said in a media forum Wednesday, June 23, 2021.

The Alpha (B.1.1.7), Beta (B.1.351), Gamma (P.1) and Delta (B.1.617) are the four variants of concern (VOC) of Sars-CoV-2, which causes coronavirus disease 2019 (Covid-19). These first emerged in the United Kingdom, South Africa, Brazil and India, respectively.

As of June 17, the UP-NIH and UP-Philippine Genome Center (UP-PGC) have detected 1,267 Beta cases, 1,085 Alpha cases, 17 Delta cases, 2 Gamma cases and 163 Theta cases. However, less than one percent, or 0.55 percent, out of the confirmed cases in the country have been sequenced.

Theta (P.3), which was first confirmed in the Philippines, is a variant of interest (VOI) as more data are still needed to assess its global public health significance.

Dr. Alethea de Guzman, director of the Department of Health (DOH) Epidemiology Bureau, said 312 of the VOC cases involved ROFs.

The regions with local Alpha cases are Ilocos (11), Cagayan Valley (23), Cordillera (128), Central Luzon (28), Calabarzon (159), National Capital Region (374), Mimaropa (6), Western Visayas (1), Eastern Visayas (5), Caraga (9), Zamboanga Peninsula (2), Northern Mindanao (1), Davao (3) and Soccsksargen (5).

Except Eastern Visayas, these regions also have local Beta cases, as follows: Ilocos (5), Cagayan Valley (3), Cordillera (10), Central Luzon (11), Calabarzon (136), National Capital Region (639), Mimaropa (2), Western Visayas (1), Caraga (23), Zamboanga Peninsula (61), Northern Mindanao (3), Davao (11) and Soccsksargen (4).

Two other regions, Bicol (2) and Bangsamoro (1), have also reported local Beta cases.

No local Alpha and Beta cases were reported in Central Visayas, but the Theta cases originated in this region.

To prevent the entry of persons carrying VOCs into the country, De la Paz and De Guzman reminded local government units (LGUs) to strictly enforce border control measures.

De Guzman also said any spike in Covid-19 cases in an area must be addressed immediately, and the interval from detection to isolation must be reduced to five days or less, said.

Both officials emphasized that all vaccines work in preventing severe infection and those eligible should get the vaccine.

They also reiterated strict compliance to the minimum public health standards (MPHS), which include proper wearing of face masks and face shields, and physical distancing.

Delta variant

Among the four VOCs, studies have shown that the Delta variant has the highest reproduction rate.

A person with the original Sars-CoV-2 strain could infect two other people. The Alpha variant, which was first reported in the United Kingdom, could infect four or five other people.

The Delta variant, which was first detected in India, could infect up to eight other people, De la Paz said, citing data from Gavi, The Vaccine Alliance.

"In the UK, it (Delta) has rapidly overtaken the Alpha variant, which was 40 percent to 50 percent more transmissible than the original Sars-CoV-2 strain identified in Wuhan (China). But Delta is 60 percent more transmissible than the Alpha variant," De la Paz said.

Citing Gavi, De la Paz said Delta now accounts for more than 91 percent of the sequenced Covid-19 cases, which in turn constitute about 30 percent of the total case count. It took only four to six weeks for the Delta variant to to cause a surge, she added.

As of Wednesday, World Health Organization (WHO) data showed that the Delta variant has spread to 85 countries.

The WHO has described it as the “fastest and fittest” variant yet, and it will “pick off” the most vulnerable people, especially in areas with low vaccination rates.

De la Paz cited Gavi data that showed Delta may be manifesting different symptoms.

In Southeast China, De la Paz said there are reports that patients developed more severe symptoms and their conditions deteriorated quickly.

In the United Kingdom, she said a study tracking Covid-19 symptoms via a smartphone app found that headache is the most common symptom.

De la Paz also cited reports saying more younger people, who are less likely to isolate as they mistake symptoms for a bad cold, have been infected with the Delta variant.

There is also preliminary evidence from the UK that people infected with Delta are about twice as likely to require hospital admission while a study in Singapore said Delta cases are associated with higher odds of oxygen requirement, intensive care unit (ICU) admission, or death. (Marites Villamor-Ilano / SunStar Philippines)