The national task force against the coronavirus pandemic is not recommending the lifting of community quarantine restrictions in any part of the country anytime soon, even as the situation is driving the Philippines to an economic recession, according to its chief implementer on Monday.
In a televised briefing, Secretary Carlito Galvez, National Task Force Against COVID-19 chief, said there was a need to gradually lift quarantine controls as “there will be a possibility the vigilance of adjacent provinces will disappear.”
“That's why we (in the task force) have decided that our threshold is the MGCQ (modified general community quarantine) so we can all go forward to the new normal," Galvez added.
President Rodrigo Duterte will announce today (Tuesday) the quarantine classifications that will be implemented starting next month, presidential spokesperson Harry Roque said at the same briefing.
The Philippines’ tally of COVID-19 cases topped 36,000 on Monday after the Department of Health (DOH) reported 985 more infections—643 “fresh” and 342 “late,” bringing the total to 36,438.
It is the third highest number of fresh cases reported in a single day since the DOH re-classified new cases on May 29.
Meanwhile, Galvez also said "stringent" coronavirus restrictions need to be enforced in Cebu City following a spike in infections in the key Visayas metropolis, which has become the country's new emerging COVID-19 hotspot along with Cebu province, Southern Leyte, Leyte and Samar provinces.
“We found out that stringent restrictions are still needed because the enhanced community quarantine (ECQ) was not properly implemented,” he said.
READ: Rural doctors buck transfer to Cebu City
The Philippines has not been spared from the worldwide downturn owing to COVID-19—and if current forecasts hold up, the country will plunge into a recession for the first time in over two decades.
The economy logged a gross domestic product (GDP) growth rate of minus-0.2% in the first quarter of 2020, for the first time in 22 years or since 1998. If GDP growth worsens, economists and experts say the country will enter a recession, the first time the Asian financial crisis, also in 1998.
This developed as Malacanang on Monday said the Philippines is winning the war against COVID-19, disputing the observation of the World Health Organization’s (WHO) that the country has the fastest growing rate of infection in the Western Pacific region.
Spokesman Roque said the Philippines should not be compared with other countries without considering socioeconomic context like population, living conditions, and health system capacity.
READ: Virus cases top 35K; Pampanga raises alarm
“Please take that into account when we do our analysis. Let us not cherry pick the countries we want to compare ourselves to,” he said.
The Philippines only ranked sixth in the Western Pacific region, if the number of cases is divided on a per million population basis.
By this calculation, he said, India topped the list followed by Pakistan, Bangladesh, Indonesia and Singapore.
“When we declared an ECQ, the number of cases went down and we were really able to take care of those who got sick,” Roque said.
The Palace official said the country is winning against the deadly virus “in terms of positivity rate, case-doubling rate, [and] mortality rate.”
“Did the government take the correct steps? Our answer is yes. We are not perfect. Perhaps, we could have done better. But we’re here now. And one thing I can assure you: The President did the very best that he can and we are in control of the situation,” he added.
Of the 643 fresh cases, which refer to those whose test results were released within the last three days, 223 are from the National Capital Region, 106 are from Region 7 or Central Visayas and 314 come from other regions.
Of the 342 late cases, or those whose results were released at least four days ago, 96 are from NCR, 29 are from Region 7 and 217 are from other regions.
READ: NCR likely to remain under GCQ
While NCR has long been the epicenter of the COVID-19 outbreak in the Philippines, Cebu City and Cebu Province are now among the emerging hotspots because of the recent spike in cases.
The DOH also reported 270 new recovered patients or a total of 9,956 recoveries. Recoveries have been at more than 200 a day since June 11.
There were 11 new COVID-related deaths, bringing total fatalities to 1,255.
There are also 24,525 active cases undergoing treatment or quarantine.
Of the active cases, 23,451 (95.6 percent) are considered mild cases, 126 (0.5 percent) severe cases, 26 (0.1 percent) critical cases and 922 (3.8 percent) asymptomatic cases.
The DOH also said it removed two duplicate cases from the total tally of infections.
As of June 28, the Philippines has 53 certified polymerase chain reaction facilities and 19 GeneXpert laboratories that have tested a total of 636,291 individuals.
Some 1,313 or 36.63 percent of intensive care unit beds for COVID-19 patients are occupied while 1,883 or 22.89 percent of mechanical ventilators are in use.
President Rodrigo Duterte is expected to announce his latest directives regarding quarantine measures on Tuesday.
Earlier, a group of experts forecast that COVID-19 cases in the country could possibly reach 60,000 by July 1.
The DOH said the recent increase in cases was due to expanded testing and increased mobility in different regions after quarantine restricions were eased.
Dr. Beverly Lorraine Ho, Director of the DOH Health Promotion and Communication Service, said the situation could be mitigated through continued behavioral change.
With the increase in cases in different regions, she said the public must follow infection control and prevention measures.
“According to studies, wearing a mask will reduce the chances of infection by 8 percent. If you observe physical distancing, the chance of infection drops by 80 percent. If you are wearing a face shield, the chance of infection falls by 78 percent,” Ho said.
DOH also reiterated its advice to avoid congested spaces with poor ventilation. Meanwhile, those who have mild symptoms and lower risk are instructed to always opt to receive treatment, rest, and recover in community isolation facilities especially if the patient shares a room with other members of the household.
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Meanwhile, the DOH said Sunday the number of health care workers who have contracted COVID-19 climbed to 3,360 as of June 27.
In its daily COVID-19 report, the DOH said 2,515 of these health workers have recovered from the respiratory illness, while the death toll has remained at 33 since June 10.
The other 812 medical workers are active cases undergoing treatment or quarantine.
Of all the confirmed cases, 1,207 are nurses, 842 are doctors, 230 are nursing assistants, 135 are medical technologists, 52 are midwives, 33 are respiratory therapists, 21 are pharmacists. There are also 218 administrative staff working in health facilities, 97 utility workers, 53 dietary staff, 37 drivers, 34 barangay health workers, 19 security guards and 12 caregivers.
Also on Monday, Senate President Vicente Sotto III said he believes the delay in actions and responses by the DOH has put the Philippines among the countries in Southeast Asia that have failed to contain the coronavirus.
"Something is very wrong," added the Senate leader who was among the signatories to the Senate resolution calling for the resignation of Duque over the slow response to the pandemic.
On Sunday, the DOH said there are now 69 laboratories nationwide licensed to conduct COVID-19 testing, after five more received accreditation.
The latest PCR laboratories to be certified were the San Miguel Foundation Testing Laboratory, Qualimed Hospital Sta. Rosa, and the Prime Care Alpha COVID-19 Testing Laboratory.
The GeneXpert facilities recently accedited were those of the National Kidney and Transplant Institute and the Sta. Ana Hospital.
There are also 166 other laboratories undergoing the five-step accreditation process, 147 or 89 percent of which are already on Stage 3 or above.
The licensed laboratories have tested 635,395 individuals as of June 27, yielding a positivity rate of 7.05 percent.
Meanwhile, an average of 13,514 samples were processed by 63 laboratories in the past week, 6,947 of which tested positive for COVID-19 for a weekly positivity rate of 7.91 percent.
READ: PH death rate declining but new cases up
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