By Alexandria San Juan and Gabriela Baron
The number of coronavirus disease (COVID-19) cases in the country could swell to over 60,000 by end of July as community transmission is still significant and as lockdown restrictions have been eased, a team of researchers studying the outbreak in the Philippines said on Monday, July 29.
“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,” the OCTA Research Team said in its new study released on Monday.
However, Professor Guido David of the University of the Philippines (UP) Institute of Mathematics explained that the projection was based on the lower end of the 60,000 to 70,000 estimated cases.
“Yung bilis ng pagkalat ng pandemya ngayon, mas bumilis kaysa nung nasa enhanced community quarantine (ECQ) tayo (The pandemic is rapidly spreading in the country now compared to before when the enhanced community quarantine was implemented),” David, who is also part of the research group, said in a radio interview.
Citing data from the health department as of June 25, the team observed that there is an increase in “fresh” COVID-19 cases in Metro Manila from an average of 271 cases per day during ECQ, to 396 during modified ECQ, to 583 during general community quarantine (GCQ) — an increase of 50 percent from one period to the next.
“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 team said.
“We believe that this uptick in the positivity rate reflects the current situation in Cebu, which is experiencing a surge in infections,” they added.
‘Not yet on the downward trend’
David also said that their study showed an estimated average reproduction number (Rt) of 1.28, which means the virus is still spreading in the country. He added that if the Rt or the number of people that one positive case can infect is below 1, the outbreak is already at a manageable level.
“This indicates that the pandemic is not yet on the downward trend. Moreover, community spread is uneven throughout the archipelago,” the team said in their findings.
Despite these figures, David noted that there are still good indicators in their study such as the slowing down of the death rate. The team said the death toll could reach 1,300 by July 31.
Low asymptomatic cases
Meanwhile, David bared that the current number of asymptomatic cases is lower than the other countries which possibly mean that many infected people have not yet been tested.
“We noticed that we have very low asymptomatic cases which are only at 3 percent, unlike other countries with at least 40 percent. This means it is possible that there are still many infected people without symptoms that have not yet detected or tested,” David said in Pilipino.
According to David, the team estimated at least 8,000 additional cases for those asymptomatic that are not yet in the database of the Department of Health (DOH).
The team said the significant community transmission in the country remains uneven but Central Visayas, especially Cebu City, has significantly higher transmission rates than the rest of the country.
Should the city, which was classified as a high-risk area, remain under ECQ, experts said the projection may be around 15,000 cases by July 31, but could surge to 20,000 to 30,000 if the quarantine will be relaxed after June 30.
The National Capital Region also remains a high-risk area, meaning the virus is still spreading in the province, with an estimated 27,000 cases by the end of July.
Based on the study, Rizal and Leyte have also been classified as high-risk areas.
‘Increase testing capacity, review strategy’
Aside from the continuous observation of health protocols, the team emphasized that testing capacity in the Philippines must be increased to at least 20,000 tests per day, based on recommendations from a study at Harvard University.
Experts also urged the government to review its national strategy to combat the disease to ensure that the transmission of COVID-19 “does not further increase beyond the capacity of the health care system to respond.”
The team added that the government should assure that the easing of quarantine restrictions must be matched with more pandemic surveillance, effective strategies for social distancing, and compliance with other health protocols.
“There is an urgent need to scale up capacities of our health care system. The government must ensure the following: (1) increased capacity of the national health care system to deal with potential outbreaks, (2) sufficient testing capability, including maximization of increased capacity to cope with the expected increase in cases, (3) sufficient PPE supplies for the front-liners, (4) set up more isolation facilities in NCR and around the country, and (5) effective and aggressive contact tracing,” it said.