By Vann Marlo M. Villegas and Gillian M. Cortez, Reporters
CORONAVIRUS infections in the country may top 60,000 by the end of July, with about 1,300 deaths, according to experts from the University of the Philippines.
Cases in Manila and nearby cities could hit 30,000 with 860 deaths, while infections in Cebu City in central Philippines, where a spike has been reported, could reach 15,000, academic researchers said in a report on Monday.
The estimate for Cebu City is based on the assumption that a strict lockdown there would continue. Otherwise, cases could surge to as many as 30,000.
The Philippines has a virus reproduction rate of 1.28, showing that there is no downward trend, the UP researchers said, adding that the government should “re-examine and re-calibrate its strategies” after 100 days of quarantine.
“We emphasize that the projected increase in cases and deaths can be prevented by rapidly identifying and breaking the chains of viral transmission,” they said.
“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 added.
The UP researchers released the study as President Rodrigo R. Duterte was set to announce his decision on the lockdown in Metro Manila and the rest of the country last night.
The Department of Health (DoH) reported 1,080 new coronavirus infections on Tuesday, bringing the total to 37,514.
The death toll rose to 1,266 after 11 more patients died, while recoveries rose by 277 to 10,233, it said in a bulletin.
Of the new cases, 858 were reported in the past three days, while 222 were reported late.
It now takes 7.7 days for infections nationwide to double, compared with 7.5 days in Cebu City, Health Undersecretary Maria Rosario S. Vergeire told an online news briefing.
“We seek to slow the doubling of cases so our healthcare system can take care of COVID-19 patients in these places,” she said in Filipino.
“We need a new strategy that is characterized by empowered execution, treatment of citizens as partners, and relying on evidence-based policy and decision-making,” according to the UP paper.
“What is urgent is to recognize that doing more of the same will not lead to better results,” it said. “We also do not want to remain the laggard in the region in the fight against the COVID-19. The nation deserves better.”
The UP team urged the Health department to expand the testing capacity to 10,000 daily in Metro Manila and 20,000 a day nationwide.
It also said the government should scale up the healthcare system by boosting testing capacity, buying more personal protective equipment, and building more isolation facilities.
Aggressive contact tracing is also key to the strategy against coronavirus infections to “rapidly identify and break chains of viral transmission and avoid reverting to stricter quarantines that hurt the economy and also strain the psychosocial well-being of citizens.”
DoH should also resolve issues on accuracy and timeliness of data on the coronavirus, according to the UP paper, which cited the backlog of about 5,000 cases and 2,794 uncategorized cases.
“Without accurate and accessible DoH data on COVID-19, our national and local government officials as well as other stakeholders will not be able to make decisions crucial to managing the pandemic,” the researchers said.
Businesses must also step up compliance with health protocols to ensure safety in the workplace as economic activities are revived.
DoH earlier said 653,656 people have been tested, with an infection rate of 7.1%. It said 64 laboratories have been licensed to test virus samples.
The government in May said it planned to test 2% of the country’s more than 100 million people.
Also on Tuesday, Environment Secretary Roy A. Cimatu said Cebu City should remain under a strict lockdown.
Strict quarantine measures had not been enforced in the city, leading to a surge in infections, he told an online news briefing.
“There were not enough policemen and the enhanced community quarantine was not immediately implemented,” said Mr. Cimatu, whom Mr. Duterte had asked to supervise the situation in Cebu.
The government seeks to cut the infection rate to 3% by end-July through expanded testing, Presidential Spokesman Harry L. Roque said at the same briefing.
He said the government was winning the fight against the coronavirus, having dodged a prediction by University of the Philippines experts that cases could hit 40,000 by end-June.
An inter-agency task force made up of Cabinet secretaries on Tuesday endorsed expanding testing as lockdowns are eased and more sectors are allowed to operate.
It said public health standards should be enforced at all times, vulnerable groups should be protected and the public should be informed about the disease. The task force also pushed localized quarantines at the village and municipal levels.