Malacañang on Wednesday assured the public that the country’s hospitals have the capability to handle COVID-19 patients amid the recent spike in infections.
The World Health Organization's (WHO’s) representative in the Philippines, meanwhile, said the increase in COVID-19 cases in the country is "worrying but also expected.”
Dr. Rabindra Abeyasinghe, WHO representative to the Philippines, also called for expanded testing and improved contact tracing.
“We are aware of increasing transmission in the National Capital Region and this is not something unique to the Philippines as countries relax their stringent quarantine measures, people come into contact with each other,” said Abeyasinghe, during a virtual forum organized by the Foreign Correspondents Association of the Philippines (FOCAP).
Presidential spokesperson Harry Roque said critical care capacity to handle COVID-19 cases in the country’s hospitals, which includes beds, ICU (intensive care unit) beds, mechanical ventilators and isolation beds, is at 70 percent, which he said is manageable.
Earlier reports said COVID-19 cases in the country are straining the capacity of hospitals, forcing some hospitals in Metro Manila to refer patients to other facilities.
Health Undersecretary Leopoldo Vega on Monday said that critical care capacity to handle COVID-19 patients has reached 70 percent, considered a “danger zone.”
“With the critical care capacity, when we had a meeting, it was at 60 percent; then Undersecretary Vega said it is now at 70 percent. That is manageable,” Roque said.
In a press briefing, Vega, who is also the government's treatment “czar,” said he is coordinating with hospitals to ensure that COVID-19 patients will not be refused if a health facility has reached its full capacity.
“The patients will not be refused due to reason of space. They will be told where they can go. Because overall, we have enough beds including ICU beds,” Roque said.
Roque said tightening the quarantine protocols is “still possible” if the COVID-19 cases continue to increase and if the country’s health facilities are filled up.
“If the situation worsens and we run out of critical care capacity or the case doubling rate becomes fast once again, we have no alternative. That is why we are making an appeal to our countrymen,” Roque said.
He said the most effective way to prevent the spread of COVID-19 is to observe safe distancing, wear a face mask, staying home, and proper hygiene.
The number of COVID-19 cases surged to 57,545 on Tuesday after the Department of Health (DOH) announced 634 more infections—302 “fresh” or newly validated and 332 reported late.
Total recoveries also rose to 20,459 after 88 more patients recovered from the respiratory illness, while the death toll climbed to 1,603 with six new fatalities.
Of the six deaths, four (67 percent) were in July and two (33 percent) were in June.
Deaths were from the National Capital Region or NCR (three or 50 percent), Region 7 (two or 33 percent), and Region 5 (one or 17 percent).
Ninety-five duplicates were removed from total case count.
There are 35,483 active cases undergoing treatment or quarantine, 91.4 percent of which are mild, 7.7 percent asymptomatic, 0.4 percent severe, and 0.5 percent in critical condition.
READ: ’No to home quarantine’
The DOH said figures were based on the total tests done by 65 out of 82 operational labs.
The Philippines has been averaging 766 to 1,571 new cases of COVID-19 in July, the DOH said Monday.
During a press briefing, Health Undersecretary Maria Rosario Vergeire said 766 is the average number of new cases per day by date of onset of illness while 1,571 is the average number of new cases per day by date of reporting.
Despite the assurances from the Palace, Health Secretary Francisco Duque III said hospital confinement will be limited to severe and critical COVID-19 cases to avoid hospital congestion.
Duque’s announcement was made as COVID-19 cases in the country surged to 57,006 as of July 13.
Duque said the utilization of the country’s 8,287 community isolation centers with 70,000 beds for suspect and probable COVID-19 cases is just at 25 percent to 30 percent.
Earlier in the day, the Private Hospitals Association of the Philippines Inc. (PHAPI) said private hospitals are nearing their full capacity for COVID-19 cases amid the increase in the number of infected patients.
The Medical City (TMC) in Pasig City announced Tuesday that it has already reached full capacity for COVID-19 patients.
“Please be advised that despite efforts to reorganize and augment our facilities and manpower, The Medical City has reached full capacity of COVID-19 patient allocated beds as of today, 14 July 2020," TMC chief medical officer Rafael Claudio said in a statement.
"We are fully aware that this is a looming problem, but we could not go beyond our capacity to take care of COVID-19 patients without posing serious risks to everyone-both the patients (COVID and non-COVID) and our hospital staff," Claudio also said.
Hospital beds at the ICU for COVID-19 patients at the St. Luke's Medical Center in both Quezon City and Bonifacio Global City (BGC) in Taguig are full, an official said on Tuesday as cases of the respiratory disease continued to increase.
At the hospital's branch in BGC, all 18 ICU beds for patients with COVID-19 are occupied, said St. Luke's chief medical officer Dr. Benjamin Campomanes, in an interview in ABS-CBN.
A total of 11 ICU beds for coronavirus patients are also full at its Quezon City branch.
Campomanes said some suspected COVID infected patients stay at emergency rooms that were converted into "transitory ICUs.”
On the other hand, the utilization rate for Mega Ligtas quarantine facilities for mild and asymptomatic COVID-19 patients is at 40 percent to 50 percent.
“We should fill this up so that they don’t all end up in the hospital,” Duque said in Filipino. “Our problem is there is congestion at the hospital because everyone wants to go there.”
“We want to change the health seeking behavior of people. We will have a redistribution system to determine who should go to a hospital and who should go to treatment facilities.”
For the last week, the DOH reported additional COVID-19 cases in the range of 1,000 to more than 2,000 a day. This follows the easing of quarantine measures in June as the country slowly opens up its economy.
But Abeyasinghe said that with the increased testing capacity of the Philippines, “if the virus is out there, you expect that to be detected. So detecting large numbers of positives is actually a good thing.”
“What is worrying is the proportion of positive cases is very slowly increasing,” he added.
He pointed out that from a positivity rate of 6.5 percent two weeks ago, the Philippines reported a positivity rate of 7.8 percent for the whole country on Monday.
The positivity rate is the proportion of people testing positive for COVID-19 out of all who are tested.
“This is worrying. This shows that there is continuing transmission.
This is also reflected by the increased number of admissions that are happening in hospitals,” he said.
“What WHO advocates is that we try to maintain positivity rate at 5 percent, which means the country is testing enough people,” he said.
Abeyasinghe explained that to have a positivity rate that is more than 5 percent, “It means that there are some areas [where] we are seeing increasing transmission. And in these places, we are seeing that not enough people are being tested.”
Abeyasinghe said “early action” is needed to suppress the transmission of the virus in those places.
Besides NCR, Cebu province and Region 7 have seen an increase in cases.
READ: No eased restrictions in NCR
READ: Localized lockdown eyed