By Kyle Aristophere T. Atienza and
Vann Marlo M. Villegas, Reporters

HEALTH authorities on Thursday expressed concern about the weakening capacity of hospitals in Manila, the capital and nearby cities to treat patients after a fresh surge in coronavirus infections.

Several hospitals in the National Capital Region were now at moderate to high-risk levels in terms of healthcare use, Health Undersecretary Leopoldo J. Vega told a televised news briefing on Thursday.

Mr. Vega, who also serves as the country’s testing czar, said 52% of about 7,000 ward beds for coronavirus patients in both private and public hospitals in the region had been occupied. Only 34% of intensive care unit beds in the region were available, he added.

“We have to do appropriate measures on capacitating hospitals in Metro Manila,” he said. Almost 80% of hospital beds in the cities of Quezon, Makati and Taguig were already occupied, he added.

Still, Mr. Vega said the country’s health sector was more equipped to handle the spike in coronavirus infections.

“Compared with last year when we barely had an experience in tackling and responding initially, we are in a better off situation right now,” he said. Health workers and institution know better how to handle hospital bed allocations, he added.

Mr. Vega said the government’s One Hospital Command had also allowed proper referrals so coronavirus patients would receive better care.

He earlier said the surge had prompted the center to refer patients in the capital region to hospitals in Central Luzon and Southern Tagalog.

He also cited the Department of Health’s (DOH) partnership with the Public works department to increase hospital beds by building modular hospitals.

The government might be able to justify tightening the lockdown for April once the country’s healthcare capacity reaches critical levels, presidential spokesman Herminio L. Roque told the same briefing. “But hopefully not.”

The OCTA Research Group from the University of the Philippines on Wednesday said the transmission level in Metro Manila had reached its highest level since May last year.

It also said the region had reached 64% occupancy in terms of ICU beds dedicated for coronavirus patients.

DoH reported 5,290 coronavirus infections on Thursday, bringing the total to 640,984. The death toll rose by 21 to 12,887, while recoveries increased by 439 to 561,530, it said in a bulletin.

There were 66,567 active cases, 93.3% of which were mild, 3.7% did not show symptoms, 1.2% were critical, 1.2% were severe and 0.64% were moderate.

The agency said four duplicates had been removed from the tally, while six recovered cases were reclassified as deaths. Eight laboratories failed to submit data on Mar. 17.

About nine million Filipinos have been tested for the coronavirus as of Mar. 16, according to DoH’s tracker website.

The coronavirus has sickened about 121.9 million and killed 2.7 million people worldwide, according to the Worldometers website, citing various sources including data from the World Health Organization.

About 98.2 million people have recovered, it said.

Meanwhile, President Rodrigo R. Duterte’s itinerary would be limited to areas under a modified general community quarantine, Mr. Roque said.

The President on Thursday visited Eastern Samar to commemorate the 500th anniversary of Ferdinand Magellan’s arrival  in the Philippines. He also met with his anti-communist insurgency officials in Tacloban City.

Coronavirus infections may hit a daily record of 11,000 by end-March, the OCTA Research Group from the University of the Philippines said on Tuesday.

OCTA research fellow Fredegusto Guido P. David cited a spike in cases, with a virus reproduction rate of 2.03. This means a sick person may infect two more people.

The spike could be traced to increased mobility, failure to comply with minimum health standards and the detection of more contagious coronavirus variants in the country, he said

The spike started in the cities of Pasay, Malabon and Navotas and has now spread to other cities in the capital region, Mr. David said.

The increase in cases was not just happening in the capital region but also in many areas in Calabarzon including Rizal, Cavite and parts of Bulacan he said. He also cited a rise in cases in Cebu City.

The researcher said a one-week strict lockdown would change the numbers and would “definitely control the spread of the pandemic.”

While he was not advocating a one-week strict lockdown, this could have a bigger impact than health protocols being enforced now.

He called on the public to have a “personal enhanced community quarantine” especially those who can work from home.