Covid-19 cases spiking again in the Philippines, but health officials not alarmed

Philippines could overtake Singapore as the country with the second most number of cases in South-east Asia. PHOTO: EPA-EFE

MANILA - The number of confirmed Covid-19 cases in the Philippines is once again on the rise since lockdown curbs were eased more than a month ago.

Yet, the disease is killing fewer people.

The public health system is also managing to keep up with the surge, Health Undersecretary Maria Rosario Vergeire told reporters.

The Health Ministry reported 2,099 new cases on Monday (July 6). This was a day after tallying a day-high of 2,434 new cases on Sunday, and a total of 3,000 cases for Friday and Saturday.

That brought the country's total to 46,333, surpassing the number of cases in Singapore, which had 44,983 as of Monday noon.

The Philippines now has the second most number of cases in South-east Asia.

Experts from the state-run University of the Philippines have warned the number of cases could reach 60,000 by the end of the month.

Indonesia still has the most number of infections in the region, with close to 64,000.

Dr Vergeire said later in the day 11 hospitals had reported that all their beds set aside for Covid-19 patients were already occupied.

But this was not a sign hospitals were again being overwhelmed, she said.

Hospitals have been asked to set aside one out of every three beds for Covid-19 patients.

But some, especially the big ones, have been allocating fewer beds, said Dr Vergeire.

"A hospital with 400 beds is allocating only 50 beds, for example. That's less than 30 per cent.

"When you say they've used up all their beds for Covid-19, that just means all 50 beds are occupied. They can always set aside more," she said.

Just half of all beds in the public healthcare system earmarked for Covid-19 patients were currently occupied, she said.

Also, nearly all of the new cases of infections could be treated at home.

Out of close to 30,000 active cases, 94 per cent were mild, while the rest were asymptomatic. Only 28 patients were considered critical.

Dr Vergeire added that fewer patients were dying.

So far, only 1,303 have died of Covid-19 in the Philippines. That is just 3 per cent of those infected.

"There were too many variables before, and we did not know how to effectively treat the cases.

"But as the months passed, our hospitals and clinics knew what supportive care to give patients. We are now better managing cases," she said.

Health officials said earlier that cases were rising again because of the "increased contact among the population".

President Rodrigo Duterte lifted a three-month lockdown on June 1, as he sought to revive an economy that had nearly stalled.

The government has allowed offices, factories, logistics hubs, malls, restaurants, salons, sports facilities and churches to reopen, with very strict social distancing rules.

Buses, trains, jeepneys, motorised rickshaws, taxis and ride-sharing vehicles are back on the road.

With more people out and about, the number of infections has risen.

Dr Edsel Salvana, an expert on viral spread consulting for the Health Ministry, said a reported mutation had made the coronavirus "more infectious, although there is no evidence it has made it more deadly or virulent".

"It can spread faster and overwhelm our healthcare system if we don't double our control efforts.

"It can lead to a higher number of overall deaths if we do not properly manage the number of infections," he said in a Facebook post.

Local officials are blaming those flouting the restrictions that are still in place such as mass gathering of more than 10 people, social distancing and the wearing of masks.

In Quezon City, Metropolitan Manila's largest city with a population of close to three million, Mayor Joy Belmonte, said she had received reports of residents in karaoke parties and crowded wakes, and playing basketball and volleyball indoors.

More than 300 districts in Metro Manila are still reporting Covid-19 clusters, and the government is said to be considering placing these areas back on lockdown.

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