The Philippines briefly overtook Indonesia for the highest number of coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) cases across Southeast Asia after the Department of Health (DOH) reported 3,462 new infections on Wednesday for a total of 115,980.
READ: PH cases soar to single-day high of 6,352 as gov't eyes to test 3M
Indonesia fell behind for about an hour before reporting more than 1,800 new cases, bringing its total to 116,871.
The Philippines, however, still has the highest number of active cases across the Southeast Asian region at 47,587, followed by Indonesia with 37,618.
This comes after the DOH reported record-breaking new cases five times in the past week alone.
A total of 3,462 confirmed cases are reported based on the total tests done by 84 out of 94 current operational labs.
Nine new deaths brought the total death toll from the pandemic to 2,123.
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The DOH also reported 222 new recoveries, bringing to 66,270 the number of patients who have recovered from COVID-19.
The country has 47,587 active cases.
The Philippines has been logging record-high numbers in terms of new COVID-19 cases since late July, following the easing of quarantine measures and the gradual opening up of the economy.
On Tuesday, additional COVID-19 cases reached a record-high 6,352.
The National Capital Region on Tuesday reverted to a stricter community quarantine, following a call from health workers for a “timeout” to arrest the spread of the respiratory disease.
The DOH has vowed to collaborate with medical societies and to come up with new strategies in the next two weeks.
Meanwhile, Health Undersecretary Rosario Vergeire said swab tests, and not rapid tests, will now be required for persons showing symptoms of COVID-19 in areas under modified enhanced community quarantine (MECQ).
Vergeire said that this is one of the 10-point results that the government has set for MECQ areas— Metro Manila, and the provinces of Bulacan, Cavite, Laguna and Rizal.
The rest of the targets include the following:
· Non-usage of rapid testing kits
· 100 percent of households undergoing symptom check
· Isolating COVID-19 patients non-compliant with home quarantine protocol
· Tracing at least 37 individuals who have been in contact per one COVID-19 patient
· High awareness and compliance with minimum health standards such as wearing of face mask and face shield and observance of physical distancing
· 100 percent requiring admission or isolation referred
· 100 percent of admitted patients have zero out of pocket hospital fee
· 100 percent of clusters identified, contained and isolated
· No stigmatization of COVID-19 patients in the community
A swab test, also known as Reverse Transcription Polymerase Chain Reaction (RT-PCR) test, is believed to yield a more accurate result than a rapid test.
Dr. Antonio Dans, of the Philippine Society of General Internal Medicine, said that doing away with rapid test — a test done by testing the individuals for antibodies IgM (immunoglobulin) and IgG (immunoglobulin G) — is a must considering that it gives false security to the population and contributes to COVID-19 transmission.
Testing positive for IgM is a sign of active COVID-19 infection while testing positive for IgG indicates that a person had recently recovered.
But Dans said the tests are unreliable with false negatives spreading the disease.
Government plans to trace at least 37 individuals who have been exposed to a COVID-19 patient during the MECQ in Metro Manila and nearby areas, Vergeire said Wednesday.
In an interview on ANC, Vergeire said that such improved contact tracing effort will mirror the strategy done by Baguio City Mayor Benjamin Magalong, who has since been appointed as the country’s COVID-19 testing czar.
“We are going to adapt the RABI model which was adapted from Mumbai (India) where they did house to house and they were able to identify all symptomatic (COVID-19 patients),” Vergeire said.
In Mumbai, home to India’s largest slum area, authorities “did house-to-house and they were able to identify all symptomatic [patients], they were able to test them and even their contacts, and somehow they were able to contain the transmission,” Vergeire said.
The new procedure will be implemented first in Metro Manila and Region 4-A where several provinces are under MECQ from August 4 to 18.
“There are different officials going on the ground, and together with the local health officials, we will be able to identify symptomatic (COVID-19 patients) in barangays and we will be able to isolate them. We should be able to trace at least 37 persons,” Vergeire said.
“We will not wait for patients to come to the system. We will find them,” Vergeire said.
The DOH said it is now studying whether or not the use of the rapid antibody tests for the coronavirus disease 2019 led to a spike of COVID-19 case.
Some companies had used the rapid antibody tests on employees returning to work, despite the warning of health experts that this type of screening can yield false negative results up to 50 percent of the time.
“With this rise in the use of rapid antibody tests among the workplaces, we have cautioned people because… it might have led to this number of cases in the different workplaces,” Vergeire said.
“We were just able to study one experience in one of our areas where there was a surge in cases and we found that the rapid antibody test was used in the community. And this is one of the things that we are studying, if it has contributed to the number of cases being reported right now in that area,” Vergeire said.
Vergeire, however, did not give additional details on the study.
The DOH is boosting its information drive for companies to instead closely monitor if workers have symptoms of the disease.
Those who do should be barred from coming to work and be screened using RT-PCR or reverse transcription polymerase chain reaction test, she said.
At the same time, Vergeire said he DOH cannot publish the names of COVID patients as one congressman, Anakalusugan Rep. Mike Defensor had suggested, for contact tracing purposes.
“We cannot just do that,” Vergeire said during an interview on ANC.
“Even though we have the law on the notifiable diseases, we have the data privacy law here in the country and we will be violating some of the provisions of this law if we do that,” she said.
Vergeire said the DOH can instead provide data on patients to contact tracers.
Also on Wednesday, Senator Richard J. Gordon proposed putting up a command and control center to manage the rising number of positive COVID-19 cases and prevent further overwhelming the country’s healthc are system.
He said the command and control center should be centralized and with a hotline so that people who fear they might have been infected could call it first instead of going directly to hospitals.
Manila Mayor Francisco “Isko” Domagoso warned on Tuesday that Manila’s six hospitals were already at 85 percent capacity.
Domagoso, meanwhile, allowed the operations of tricycles, e-trikes, and pedicabs to help frontliners and essential workers get to work amid the suspension of public transportation.
Tricycles, e-trikes, and pedicabs will be allowed to ply the streets of Manila amid the modified enhanced community quarantine (MECQ) from Aug. 4 to 18.
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However, Domagoso said the city government will no longer be distributing aid.
The city government said there will be no liquor ban. However, residents caught drinking outside their houses will be arrested by Manila’s COVID-19 marshals.
An 8 p.m. to 5 a.m. curfew will also be imposed in the city. Quarantine passes previously issued will be honored.
An odd-even scheme on who will be allowed to go out during the MECQ will be implemented.