The number of COVID-19 cases in the Philippines may reach more than 60,000 by July 31, according to a study made by a group of experts.
The death toll, meanwhile, may climb to 1,300 by that time, said the group composed of University of the Philippines mathematics professor Dr. Guido David, UP political science assistant professor Ranjit Singh Rye, Ma. Patricia Agbulos of OCTA Research and biology professor Rev. Fr. Nicanor Austriaco of Providence College and University of Santo Tomas.
For the National Capital Region (NCR), the group's projection is 27,000 COVID-19 cases by July 31.
For Cebu, the projection is that COVID-19 cases may reach 15,000 by the same date, adding that "Central Visayas, especially the City of Cebu, has significantly higher transmission rates than the rest of the country."
"Using the current value of Rt, based on the current number of cases in the Philippines (including uncategorized cases) and assuming the trends continue, this projects to more than 60,000 Covid-19 cases by July 31, with 1,300 deaths. In NCR, the projection is 27,000 cases by July 31, while in the province of Cebu, the projection is 15,000 cases by July 31. We emphasize that the projected increase in cases and deaths can be prevented by rapidly identifying and breaking chains of viral transmission," the group said.
"The pandemic is still spreading," they said.
The group's study covered the period March 1 to June 25, 2020.
The group said they estimate the reproductive number of the virus at around 1.28 in the country.
"The current reproduction number Rt in the Philippines is still greater than 1, with an estimate of around Rt =1.28, based on the number of new case reports, incidence of fresh cases, and the reports on positively tested individuals," they added.
In NCR, the virus reproduction rate is estimated to be 1.28.
The experts also observed that the number of daily fresh cases in NCR rose from 271 under enhanced community quarantine (ECQ) to 396 under modified enhanced community quarantine (MECQ) to 583 under general community quarantine (GCQ).
This represents "an increase of 50% from one period to the next," they said.
"This increase can be explained in part by the increase in testing capacity in the country especially since the positivity rate remains stable. Nonetheless, the positivity rate over the past two weeks is trending up suggesting that the pandemic is spreading more significantly," the group said.
"We believe that this uptick in the positivity rate reflects the current situation in Cebu, which is experiencing a surge in infections," they said.
In Cebu City, the virus reproduction rate estimate is almost 1.8, the group added.
The group said testing capacity must be increased to 20,000 tests daily at least in the country, and 10,000 tests daily at least in NCR. This is based on a Harvard University study, they said.
"We emphasize that the projected increase in cases and deaths can be prevented by rapidly identifying and breaking chains of viral transmission," they said.
The group also observed that occupancy rate in Cebu City hospitals is greater than the rate in NCR.
"Hospitalization resource utilization in Cebu City has increased, and occupancy of hospital beds is greater than 70%, while occupancy of ICUs is greater than 60%. On the other hand, occupancy in NCR has gone down, with occupancy of hospital beds at less than 60% while occupancy of ICUs is less than 50%," it said.
Testing czar Vince Dizon on Monday said the Philippine government aims to have nearly a tenth of the Filipino population tested for COVID-19 in less than a year.
In an interview on CNN Philippines, Dizon said other non-medical frontliners in the country must be included in the expanded testing to keep the economy up and going.
The group also said 2,794 COVID-19 cases were uncategorized—"not ascribed to any region or province"—in the Department of Health's (DOH) database.
This represents an increase of 50% in the group's last Report No. 10 issued two weeks ago.
The group also pointed out that there is still a backlog in DOH data.
"The difference between positively tested individuals and case reports, equal to 9,240 cases as of June 25, may be decomposed into the testing lag and the actual backlog. An estimate for the actual backlog of DOH is a little more than half of this number, or roughly 5,000 cases," it said.
Areas at risk
Based on their study, the group said the following areas can be considered as having low risk for COVID-19:
- Camarines Norte
- Camarines Sur
- Davao de Oro
- Davao Del Norte
- Davao Oriental
- Ilocos Norte
- Ilocos Sur
- La Union
- Misamis Occidental
- Misamis Oriental
- Mountain Province
- Negros Occidental
- Negros Oriental
- Nueva Ecija
- Occidental Mindoro
- Oriental Mindoro
- Surigao Del Norte
- Surigao Del Sur
- Zamboanga Del Sur
Meanwhile, these areas below have medium risk:
- Agusan Del Norte
- Davao Del Sur
- Lanao Del Sur
- Southern Leyte
On the other hand, the following areas are at high risk, the group said:
The group urged the government to review its national strategy for COVID-19 response.
"The government must re-examine and re-calibrate its strategies to ensure that the transmission of the Covid-19 virus does not further increase beyond the capacity of the health care system to respond. This requires having clear targets to measure whether the strategies are working, such as keeping positivity rates low (below 7%), and active cases trending down," they said.
"Furthermore, the easing of quarantine restrictions must be matched with more pandemic surveillance, effective strategies for social distancing, and compliance with other health protocols including vigorous promotion of personal hygiene practices, wearing of masks and other personal protective equipment (PPE) and increased testing, tracing, and isolation as the working population increases their exposure especially in high risk areas such NCR and Cebu province," they added.
"Aggressive contact tracing should be a centerpiece of our strategy against Covid-19," the group said, adding that the Department of the Interior and Local Government may consider "mobilizing other sectors of society to help, even on a voluntary basis."
The public as part of the solution
The group advised the government to focus on three issues in reviewing its national strategy, including moving from a "command and control" government to "empowered execution."
Under command and control, the government "specifies everything that should be done, directs activities from the top, demands obedience to rules and procedures and gives very little leeway to lower units to decide things for themselves."
"Critics of this approach have pointed out that it provides no incentive for going beyond the limits that have been set; it offers limited flexibility, and it often has politically motivated loopholes," they said.
Meanwhile, under empowered execution, "individuals and teams closest to the problem... offer the best ability to decide and act decisively."
They also pointed out another issue: that of the government "blaming" citizens for their supposed failure in curbing the spread of the virus.
"Not only is the government’s approach too top-down, but it also blames citizens (who are “pasaway”) for the failure to contain the virus... Rather than treat citizens as part of the problem, it might be more useful to see them as part of the solution," the group said.
The last issue is using evidence-based policy and decision making.
"Policies and decisions should be grounded in the best available scientific evidence generated from data from the field. While experience is valued, it should not be the sole basis for policy or decisions," they said.
According to the group, medical professionals and scientists should take the lead during health emergencies while the government should prioritize the production of quality data.
"We have commented on this in the past and others have also pointed out that we cannot have evidenced-based decision making if we do not have quality data," they added.
The Philippines has the fastest-growing number of new COVID-19 cases among over 20 countries and territories in Western Pacific Region, based on the data of World Health Organization since June 16.
From June 16 to 28, the total number of new COVID-19 cases in the country was recorded at 9,655, followed by Singapore with 2,610 new cases.
The DOH on Sunday said the number of COVID-19 cases in the Philippines reached 35,455 after 653 more infections—485 "fresh" or newly validated and 168 reported late—were added.
Total recoveries also rose to 9,686 after 258 more patients recovered from the respiratory illness, while the death toll climbed to 1,244 with eight new fatalities. — with Joahna Lei Casilao/KG/AOL/BM, GMA News