The Department of Health on Wednesday reported 320 new COVID-19 cases, the highest number so far in a day—bringing total cases of the dread coronavirus disease to 10,004.
In breaching the ten thousand mark, the Philippines became the nation with the third-highest number of infections in Southeast Asia, trailing only Singapore's 20,198 cases and Indonesia's 12,438 cases as of May 6.
Still, the DOH said the Philippines is beginning to flatten the curve on COVID-19 infections, one-and-a-half months into a lockdown that has kept millions of Filipinos home without work.
In an online press briefing, Health Undersecretary Maria Rosario Vergeire reported 21 new deaths, bringing total fatalities to 658, while 98 new recoveries were recorded, bringing the total number of recoveries to 1,506.
Although there is some flattening of the COVID-19 curve, Vergeire said there could be a resurgence if people start being complacent about social distancing.
She also said the DOH is pushing for behavioral changes to slow down any possible resurgence of infections, once the enhanced community quarantine (ECQ) is lifted and most of the country moves to a general community quarantine (GCQ).
Vergeire was joined in the press briefing by Dr. John Wong of Epimetrics Inc. and an associate professor at the Ateneo School of Medicine and Public Health.
Wong, a member of the technical working group on data analytics of the Inter-Agency Task Force for the Management of Emerging Infectious Diseases (IATF), said the country is flatting the curve based on the doubling time—or the time it takes for cases or deaths to double.
The ECQ, he said, has significantly slowed down the speed of transmission, thus flattening the curve.
“When April 1 came around, when the ECQ took effect, you'll see that the curve has started to flatten. From doubling every less than three days, now it is doubling around four days,” Wong said.
He said for Luzon, except Metro Manila and its neighboring provinces, the doubling time has stretched toward seven days.
“Because of the transport network between the National Capital Regional (NCR) and its neighbors, we consider this as one unit. So you see, where maybe about 70 percent of the cases are focused or concentrated, the flattening is even more evident compared to the graph of the national level, especially for mortality,” Wong said.
He added that NCR listed only a few additional deaths and noted that most deaths are from outside of the region.
Generally, however, “deaths are approaching the seven-day level, so they're slowing down,” Wong continued.
Luzon has greatly improved during the ECQ. While it has a very slow outbreak to begin with, it has also exceeded the seven-day line for deaths.
“The biggest improvement was in Mindanao. Although it started with a very fast outbreak, they slowed down considerably by about three days,” he said.
He said the country generally has a case doubling time of 4.6 days, which indicates that cases double almost every four to five days.
Except for Metro Manila and its neighboring provinces, the rest of the three regions placed under ECQ—Luzon, Visayas, and Mindanao—all recorded at least seven days for mortality doubling time.
Wong said another good indication of the readiness of the country to have the ECQ lifted is the country’s health capacity.
“Right now, we only have 25 percent utilization for mechanical ventilators and about 40 percent each for ICU beds and isolation beds. So, we still have a lot of reserve capacity,” he said.
Vergeire said properly categorizing positive cases—asymptomatic, mild, severe, and critical—has helped in the quick isolation and treatment of patients.
Wong added that the country has more asymptomatic and mild cases than severe or critical ones.
Vergeire also reported no new cases of COVID-19 have been reported in 41 provinces across the nation over the course of the last two weeks.
Meanwhile, Health Secretary Francisco Duque III inspected the first of four mega swabbing centers on Roxas Boulevard Wednesday.
“We are still putting together the manpower who will operate these swabbing booths, but the DOH has agreed to supply these mega swabbing centers with 400 [people],” Duque said.
The second mega swabbing center can accommodate 1,000 to 1,500 tests daily with its 56 testing booths manned by medical personnel from the Army and the Philippine National Police, taking two shifts daily.
In related developments:
• The Lung Center of the Philippines is scaling down its coronavirus testing operations to address backlogs, the Department of Health said Wednesday.
Vergeire said the Lung Center had to reduce its COVID-19 tests after it caught the backlog of the Research Institute for Tropical Medicine when the latter scaled down operations last month.
• Finance Secretary Carlos Dominguez III on Wednesday cited the vital role of the members of the Philippine National Police in the fight against COVID-19, particularly when they donated a portion of their salaries worth over P228 million to be used for the pandemic response efforts of the government. Dominguez called this a "heroic act," saying donating a portion of their salaries was beyond the call of duty of the PNP, yet they gladly did their share to help those in need in this time of crisis.
• Senator Richard Gordon commended local government units (LGUs) that are already conducting tests on their constituents. Several LGUs in the National Capital Region (NCR) entered into an agreement with the Philippine Red Cross when the latter opened up COVID testing centers or molecular laboratories. Under the agreement, trained LGU personnel will do the swabbing and the samples will be turned over to the Red Cross for the testing. With Julito G. Rada