MANILA - A city of some 250,000 in Metropolitan Manila is set to go back under lockdown this week, as the Philippines struggles to keep up with a recent surge in coronavirus cases.
Residents of Navotas, one of 16 cities that make up the sprawling capital region of 12 million, will have to stay home for a fortnight, just six weeks after emerging from a three-month lockdown.
“I am not sure if this is a solution But I am certain that if I do this, the number of cases will not increase,” Navotas city Mayor Toby Tiangco told a radio station on Monday (July 13). Navotas, one of the poorest cities in Metro Manila and home to a major fishing port, has 931 confirmed cases and 59 deaths, according to local government figures.
“We have no choice but to do it because people are so stubborn,” said Mr Tiangco, referring to people flouting social distancing rules.
The Health Ministry has been reporting around 2,000 new cases a day across the country, from just 500 during the lockdown.
On Monday, it reported 836 new infections. That brought the country’s total to 57,006, just behind Indonesia’s 76,000 cases.
The ministry also announced 227 deaths, a spike from a daily average of 10 in previous days. That has raised the total to 1,599 deaths since February.
But officials explained this was due to better record-keeping. Most were recorded from the previous three months, but landed on the ministry’s official tally only on Sunday, following a recent “harmonisation” of data, they said.
Out of the 227 deaths, only 60 occurred this month. June saw 144 deaths recorded, with 22 in May and just one from April.
Health Undersecretary Maria Rosario Vergeire told reporters on Monday: “We expect more deaths to be reported in the coming days as a result of our data reconciliation efforts.”
But she said the situation, while worrying, was still manageable, as latest reports showed there were still fewer people dying of Covid-19 in recent weeks.
“Should we be worried? Yes. One too many deaths is a concern… (But) we are still on a downward trend,” she said.
Yet, at least 15 big hospitals in Metropolitan Manila have reported they can no longer take in any more coronavirus patients. These include the Philippine General Hospital, the country’s largest state-run hospital with some 1,100 beds and over 600,000 patients a year.
St Luke’s Medical Centre and Makati Medical Centre, two of the country’s premiere hospitals which serve mostly affluent patients and have close to 1,500 beds, said they, too, were already at full capacity.
Health Undersecretary Leopoldo Vega told reporters the number of beds set aside for Covid-19 patients in intensive care was now inside the “danger zone”, as 70 per cent were already occupied.
But the Health Ministry said only a quarter of some 70,000 beds in hundreds of field hospitals set up across the country were currently being used.
The ministry has advised those showing mild symptoms to use these facilities, or just go on home quarantine, instead of running to a hospital.