Malacañang on Wednesday said there is no reason to celebrate as the country reported 1,874 new COVID-19 cases, bringing total infections to 85,486, which surpassed the University of the Philippines OCTA Research Group projection of 85,000 by July 31 with two days to spare.
READ: Cases rising to UP experts’ danger level
“The forecast happened and I see no reason why we should celebrate. It’s very sad,” Presidential Spokesman Harry Roque told CNN Philippines.
In breaching the 85,000 mark on Wednesday, the country’s COVID-19 cases even surpassed mainland China’s cumulative tally of coronavirus disease cases.
China, where the infectious disease is believed to have first emerged late last year, tallied 84,060 cases as of Wednesday morning, according to the World Health Organization - Western Pacific Region office. Cases in China’s special administrative regions of Hong Kong and Macau were logged separately.
In a July 16 forecast, researchers from UP said the number of infections in the Philippines may reach past 85,000 by the end of July, with 2,000 deaths, based on the prevailing rate of reproduction of cases.
The Department of Health (DOH) also reported 388 additional recovered patients on Wednesday, or a total of 26,996 recoveries.
Sixteen new deaths were reported, bringing total fatalities to 1,962.
Roque had rejoiced in June over the Philippines’ “small victory” after the country disproved UP’s projection of 40,000 COVID-19 cases by June 30.
Researchers from UP initially projected in June that the country would likely hit 60,000 COVID-19 cases by the end of July, but later revised their projection to 85,000, considering the disease’s transmission rate and doubling time.
Roque’s latest admission came as he reiterated that COVID-19 cases in the country continue to rise because of the improved testing capacity.
“To those who made fun of my excitement, well, you got what you wanted,” he said.
On Monday, UP researchers once again adjusted their projection, as they warned that the Philippines could record up to 90,000 cases
by the end of July.
READ: UP sees cases surging to 90,000 end-July as total tally tops 82k
They also cautioned that the number of COVID-19 cases in the country could reach 140,000 by the end of August.
Despite his admission, Roque remained optimistic that the country can still beat UP’s predictions.
“We should always aim to beat the forecast because we have the tools,” he said.
Roque said it is still possible to curb the spread of COVID-19 in the country since the government was able to do it in Cebu City, which is the only area in the country that is currently under modified enhanced community quarantine.
READ: As cases surge, MECQ for NCR pushed
“It can happen because it happened in Cebu already, that they were able to reduce the transmission. And since Cebu was able to do it, we should be able to do it in Metro Manila as well,” he said.
Of the 56,528 active cases, 90 percent have mild symptoms, 9 percent are asymptomatic, 0.5 percent have severe symptoms, and 0.4 percent are in critical condition, health officials said.
Of the latest additional cases, 728 are from Metro Manila, 325 are from Cebu province, 130 are from Laguna, 67 are from Iloilo, and 53 are from Rizal. The data came from 83 out of 91 operational testing laboratories.
Also on Wednesday, a Chinese foreign ministry official said the Philippines would be a priority once China has developed a vaccine.
“The Philippines is a friendly close neighbor and we will give priority to its needs once we succeed in developing a vaccine,” Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesperson Wang Wenbin said, in a virtual press conference on Wednesday.
Wang made the assurance after President Rodrigo Duterte told Filipinos in his State of the Nation Address that he asked Chinese President Xi Jinping to prioritize the Philippines once China develops a vaccine.
Senate Minority Leader Franklin M. Drilon on Wednesday said “time is ticking” for the DOH as he urged the agency to move as quickly as possible to prevent the collapse of the country’s healthcare system.
He warned that once hospitals are overwhelmed, the country would face devastating consequences.
He raised alarm over the state of the country’s health care system after the DOH reported that hospitals, particularly in Metro Manila, are about to reach the “danger zone” as 82.2 percent of their total COVID-19 bed capacity are already occupied.
“It’s a cause for alarm. Hospital beds are running out. Patients were dying while waiting for hospital beds. Patients are already spreading the virus while waiting for their test results,” Drilon said in a statement on Wednesday.
“These are the issues that millions of Filipinos, myself included, wanted to hear from the President’s 5th State of the Nation Address,” he said.
Senator Sherwin Gatchalian called on the government to seriously consider the construction of field hospitals to augment and increase the capacity of hospitals accommodating COVID-19 positive patients.
He said the government could not just sit back and remain idle while most hospitals now have reached full capacity of their COVID-19 dedicated beds as COVID-19 cases continue to spread throughout the country.
“We’ve practically done everything by the book except for the option of having makeshift hospitals strictly dedicated to COVID-19 positive cases, for those with mild to severe cases,” Gatchalian said.
The DOH warned that the health system is close to being overwhelmed and hospitals in other regions such as Calabarzon and Central Luzon are also nearing the “warning zone” with almost 50 percent of their bed capacity already occupied.
“What now, DOH?” Drilon asked,“Our hospitals are gasping for breath. Are to wait for 100 percent occupancy rate?” he asked.
The minority leader reiterated his call for the government to come up with a comprehensive plan to address the pandemic, the rising cases of infection and the effects of the pandemic on the economy.
“We need a concrete plan. Otherwise, we will not be able to move forward in this fight against COVID-19 pandemic. While the rest of the world are already on the road to recovery, the Philippines would always be back to square one without a comprehensive plan,” Drilon said.
Drilon said the government could no longer rely on its past strategies, like the shotgun approach in implementing the world’s longest and most stringent lockdowns, saying they were complete failures.
READ: NCR lockdown eyed anew
He also hit the government’s testing and contact tracing efforts as “too slow.”
“Our testing and contact tracing are moving like a turtle. These are two of the three Ts where we are really lagging behind. I don’t know where the bottleneck is but we really are too slow,” said Drilon.
Health officials on Wednesday said the number of cases was rising in the Cagayan Valley region.
Regional Director Rio L. Magpantay confirmed that there were 306 total cases, 299 of which were actual cases in Region 2 and seven that were from the National Capital Region (NCR).
READ: NCR may revert to MECQ
Meanwhile, the Bureau of Immigration (BI) main building in Intramuros, Manila, will remain closed until Thursday to enable all of the employees working there to undergo rapid antibody tests for the COVID-19 virus, BI commissioner Jaime Morente said.
Morente said only about half of the nearly 700 employees assigned at the bureau’s main office were tested by the Bureau’s Medical Section on Monday and Tuesday, hence the need to extend the building’s shutdown for another two days.
Morente added that the Bureau’s General Services Section has also requested that they be given ample time to complete the disinfection and sanitation of the entire four-storey building and its and premises.
The BI earlier said it was suspending operations at its main building after three of its employees reportedly tested positive for the coronavirus.
Despite the shutdown of its main office, Morente said the public may transact their business in the Bureau’s satellite and extension offices in Metro Manila, particularly at the SM Aura mall and PEZA building in Taguig City; SM-North mall in Quezon City; and BOI building in Makati City.
“Those who have registered with our online appointment system will be notified or may inquire about their new schedule by contacting our hotlines that can be viewed at immigration.gov.ph,” the BI chief added.
Manila Mayor Isko Moreno assured the BI personnel that the medical and quarantine facilities of the city government are always available to any immigration employee who may be infected or suspected of having the virus. With Rey E. Requejo, Jessica Bacud, and PNA