The relaxation in quarantine restrictions has brought about a surge in coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) infections nationwide, a University of the Philippines math professor said Tuesday.
This developed as the number of coronavirus cases in the country exceeded 31,000 on Tuesday after the Department of Health (DOH) reported a record-high 1,150 new infections—789 “fresh” or newly validated and 361 reported late—bringing the total to 31,825.
Total recoveries increased to 8,442, with 299 more patients recovering from the respiratory illness,
The death toll climbed to 1,186 with nine new fatalities.
Explaining the surge, Prof. Guido David of the University of the Philippines Institute of Mathematics said: "What we do is to get the average number per day every week."
"From the enhanced community quarantine (ECQ) to modified enhanced community quarantine (MECQ), it seems there was an a 50 percent increase (in the number of cases) in the entire country. From MECQ to general community quarantine (GCQ), there was another 50 percent (increase)," he said.
However, he said the COVID-19 situation in Metro Manila is getting "quite stable.”
"The increase is not that much," he said. "The transmission has not slowed down, this is the first reason for the high incidence of cases. It is not that bad but the curve has not yet flattened."
David attributed the increased number of COVID-19 cases to mass testing and influx of thousands of returning overseas Filipino workers.
He also said they could not draw a relation between the Balik Probinsya Balik Pag-asa program to the rise in COVID-19 cases.
Among the fresh cases, 207 are from Metro Manila, 288 are from Region VII, while the remaining 294 are spread out across the country.
Among the late cases, 110 are from Metro Manila, 32 are from Region VII, while the 219 other patients came from various areas nationwide.
Health Undersecretary Maria Rosario Vergeire earlier admitted that the DOH has a lot to improve on in terms of its coronavirus response as the department faces a probe by the Office of the Ombudsman.
Vergeire made the statement more than three months after a lockdown was imposed to prevent COVID-19 transmission, a measure that limited mobility of people and prevented mass gathering amid the COVID-19 pandemic.
One of the things that need improvement is data gathering of COVID-19 cases, she said.
Vergeire also said there is still a need to increase COVID-19 laboratories to process test results.
At present, Vergeire said, the country’s COVID-19 testing capacity is 12,000 to 13,000 a day. As of June 22, the Philippines had 64 licensed laboratories that have tested a total of 558,163 individuals.
The case doubling time is seven days, while the critical care utilization is at 35 percent.
There are also 65,328 dedicated community isolation beds across the country, while over 52,000 contact tracers have been deployed.
Meanwhile, the DOH said the use of critical care facilities like hospital beds in Cebu province have reached a “warning zone” following the recent spike in cases in the area.
“In Cebu as of June 21 when we analyzed the data, while only 13 percent of the 19,718 dedicated community isolation beds are occupied, 58 percent of the 1,533 hospital beds are occupied,” Vergeire said in a media briefing.
More than half (56 percent) of intensive care unit beds are also occupied while 37 percent of mechanical ventilators are in use.
The percentage indicates the severity of COVID-19 cases in the province–a crucial metric in determining the impact of the coronavirus on the country.
“They are not at the critical level because that would be 70 percent and up, but they are in the warning zone already,” Vergeire said.
“That’s why Cebu City went into an enhanced community quarantine, because their critical care utilization is already in the warning zone,” she added.
The government has placed Cebu City back under ECQ on June 16 following two weeks under general quarantine as COVID-19 cases continued to spike. Talisay City, also in Cebu province, was placed under modified enhanced community quarantine. Both quarantine levels will remain in effect until the end of the month.
Quarantine in levels in other parts of the country have, meanwhile, eased.
Recent DOH data showed that in the last two weeks, a third of the cases in Cebu City were concentrated in just 10 villages. These are the COVID-19 clusters that the government is now monitoring.
As of June 22, the ICU beds occupied in Region 7 was at 56.3 percent. The percentage is higher for Cebu province as a whole (58.7 percent) and Cebu City in particular (66.7 percent).
The National Capital Region had a 43.7 percent ICU bed occupancy.
The disparity is bigger when it comes to mechanical ventilator utilization. Overall, only 22 percent of the country’s ventilators are used. For NCR, the rate is slightly higher at 29.5 percent.
But for Region 7, up to 57.3 percent of mechanical ventilators are being used. It is higher for Cebu province as a whole (60.3 percent) and Cebu City (64.3 percent).
In a media forum, Vergeire reminded Pilipinas Shell vice president for retail Randy Del Valle and 7-Eleven Phils. President and CEO Victor Paterno of the private sector’s responsibility to adhere to government-prescribed health protocols.
Regular health checks, improved employee hygiene standards, and contactless payments have been implemented by the two retail giants to contain the spread of the infection.
Over the last few months, the companies have gone beyond the minimum health standards to bolster the national pandemic response.
Similarly, delivery services are available to encourage the public to stay at home. 7-Eleven, the convenience store leader, installed barriers at their cashier counters and shielded their contactless payment kiosks with plastic to protect both customers and employees.
“This is one disease where you really do have to work together, because of the nature of the disease,” said Paterno.
“It's something we have to live with for now, but we’ll continue to innovate,” he added.