75k cases in 3 months unless...

Timely cure stems community spread, health exec warns

Without appropriate interventions, the number of coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) cases in the Philippines may spike to 75,000 in three months, Health Undersecretary Maria Rosario Vergeire warned Wednesday.

GROCERY DISTANCING. Shoppers stand apart even on the sidewalk to follow social distancing measures while queueing outside a supermarket in Manila on Tuesday. President Rodrigo Duterte ordered about half the country's population to stay home for the next month in a drastic bid on Monday to curb the rising number of new coronavirus cases. AFP
As of noon on March 18, the number of confirmed positive COVID-19 cases in the Philippines stood at 202, with 17 deaths and 7 recovered patients, the Department of Health said in a statement.

Vergeire said the 75,000 figure was based on the “modelling estimate” made by Filipino and World Health Organization experts and epidemiologists in the country.

“And they were saying that (COVID-19 cases) would reach 75,000 if we will not put appropriate interventions. So we are trying to forecast to properly respond,” she added.

Vergeire is also optimistic authorities “can flatten this curve.”

“We can prevent the peak with this number. So this means we can spread this across many months if only we can implement stringent measures like social distancing,” she noted.

READ: Duterte puts entire Luzon on lockdown

“So that we can flatten that curve, we can flatten that peak. It will become wide, will become longer but the cases will be lower and our system can be responsive,” Vergeire said.

The DOH official underscored the need to implement stringent measures, such as the enhanced community quarantine in Luzon, which calls for social distancing.

The health official also confirmed there is now a clustering of COVID-19 cases in the country, an indication of sustained community transmission of the contagious virus.

She pointed out that some of the confirmed cases do not have any links with other cases. “If we have this kind of situation, it means we already have sustained community transmission.

DOH defined sustained community transmission as “increasing number of local cases whose links cannot be established.”

Health Secretary Francisco Duque III confirmed this, stressing that some cases no longer have a history of travel to COVID-19-affected countries or exposure to a positive COVID-19 case.

“You can no longer link it to each other. In effect, there is already unlinkable clustering of cases or untraceable chains of transmission in the community,” emphasized Duque. 

In other developments:

• CNN Philippines stopped broadcasting on Wednesday after a coronavirus case was confirmed in the building where the television channel is based, forcing it off the air while the offices are disinfected.

Viewers tuning in to the local franchise were met with the network’s red logo on a blank screen as it announced it would be off-air for at least 24 hours.

“CNN Philippines will temporarily stop broadcasting on Wednesday after a COVID-19 case was confirmed in the building [in Manila] where the company is located,” the franchise said on its website.

“As a result, CNN Philippines will be off the air for at least 24 hours,” it added, stressing the infection occurred at another company in the building.

It said it would continue to provide news on its website and social media accounts.

• SENATOR Panfilo Lacson said Wednesday placing the entire country under a state of calamity, as President Rodrigo Duterte did Tuesday night, was “timely and rational” which deserved the support of the 109 million Filipino people. 

READ: PH under state of calamity

He said it would allow the local government units as well as the national government agencies to utilize their calamity funds and Quick Response Fund, in accordance with Republic Act 10121 and other pertinent laws.

Lacson said the government, for all its disaster preparedness and response efforts, could not overcome the threat by itself. 

“Having said that, I cannot imagine that concerned local government officials in charge of dispensing those funds can still have gall and malevolent intention of stealing the monies under their control, considering the seriousness of this unprecedented crisis that we are all facing,” he said. 

“We must all do our part, whether as workers rendering frontline services, scientists developing ways to deal with the problem, or responsible Filipinos giving support to them,” the senator added.

• Secretary Menardo Guevarra said the Department of Justice, if requested, would assist the National Commission on Muslim Filipinos in tracing the whereabouts of the 215 Filipinos who attended a global religious gathering in Malaysia where several attendees were reportedly tested positive for COVID-19.

Guevarra said he had not received any request from the NCMF seeking their help to track down the Filipinos, 125 of them Islamic (tabligh) preachers, who attended the ijtimak tabligh gathering at the James Sri Petaling Mosque in Malaysia from Feb. 27 to March 1.

The Justice Secretary, who exercises administrative supervision over the Bureau of Immigration and National Bureau of Investigation, admitted he had not seen any request from the NCMF.

Guevarra, also a member of the Inter-Agency Task Force, stressed that when these 215 Filipinos return to the Philippines, they “will undergo stringent quarantine screening” to help determine if any of them developed COVID-19 symptoms.

• Meanwhile, the non-government organization Philippine Legislators Committee on Population and Development said one reality emerged from the current pandemic situation: the wide gap between the rich and the poor.

“In a time of crisis, when everyone is vulnerable, the poor is way more vulnerable to the immediate and attendant threats to public health and their economic impact,” said Au Quilala, advocacy manager  of PLCPD. 

READ: PhilHealth to release P30 billion to hospitals to fight CoViD-19

She said the declaration by the President of an enhanced community quarantine in the whole main island of Luzon effectively suspended public transportation, restricted movement of people, closed business establishments except those rendering essential services like banking and retail for the provision of food and health needs.

The NGO said the enhanced community quarantine resulted in crowds at checkpoints, virtually rendering the government guidelines to observe social distancing ineffective.

This picture is an indication of a deeper national problem: The lack of safety nets for the poor and the vulnerable, it said. 

It added: “Those who have enough resources can properly observe the prescribed precautionary measures and have access to basic necessities that will allow them to survive for weeks to come while on community quarantine,”   she said. 

“For the poor, it is altogether a different story. For the poor, the daily wage earners, those who are part of the informal economy, or those who are employed by small businesses who could not survive prolonged inactivity, suspension of work, suspension of mass transportation, and social distancing could mean hunger,” said Quilala.

The state of calamity is effective for six months unless the President lifts it earlier or extends it further.

All government agencies and local government units were directed to mobilize all of the necessary and available resources to undertake measures and “eliminate the threat of COVID-19.”

Law enforcement agencies, with the support of the Armed Forces of the Philippines, are directed to ensure peace and order in affected areas. With Rey Requejo, Willie Casas and AFP

Topics: coronavirus disease 2019 , Department of Health , Maria Rosario Vergeire
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