MANILA - Philippine officials on Friday (Aug 7) disputed data that showed the country had the most Covid-19 cases in East Asia, insisting that previous "hot spot" Indonesia was just not testing enough.
"Because we test more, it’s not true that we have more cases than Indonesia. The Indonesians just don’t know just exactly how many who are sick are out there. At least we do," said Mr Harry Roque, the spokesman for President Rodrigo Duterte.
The Philippines on Thursday reported a total tally of 119,460 cases, the highest in all of East Asia.
Only India, Pakistan and Bangladesh have more cases in Asia.
Indonesia, which till Thursday had been the epicentre, had 118,753 cases.
On Friday, the Philippines' caseload jumped by over 3,300 to 122,754.
"There are those saying these are bad numbers because we're the highest. It's not like that. It only means we know where the cases are… Quoting Donald Trump, if we want to see a lower figure, we should stop testing. But that's not our policy," said Mr Roque.
He said the Philippines is seeing a spike in infections because it has been able to ramp up testing.
He said the country has already conducted over 1.6 million tests, or 28,938 per day.
By comparison, Indonesia has reported 908,000 tests, or 14,921 daily.
Mr Roque added that considering population size, the test rate for the Philippines is 1.5 per cent compared to Indonesia's 0.34 per cent.
Indonesia's population is more than twice that of the Philippines' which stands at roughly 107 million.
"We are finding more cases because we are testing three times more than Indonesia. That's our basis for saying it's not true or conclusive that we have more cases than Indonesia," said Mr Roque.
Health Undersecretary Maria Rosario Vergeire told reporters that while total tallies and benchmarking showed the Philippines had the highest number of cases in South-east Asia, "we have to be cautious when interpreting data because each nation has a different setting and population".
Echoing Mr Roque, she said the Philippines has conducted more tests than any other nation in South-east Asia.
Mr Duterte on Sunday placed Metropolitan Manila and the nearby provinces of Bulacan, Riza, Cavite and Laguna - home to some 27 million - back on lockdown for at least two weeks, as infections soared soon after he eased strict quarantine curbs that were in place since mid-March on June 1.
The Philippines reported over 75,000 cases for June and July alone. So far this month, the tally has already reached close to 30,000.
Some 80 groups representing 80,000 doctors and a million nurses last Saturday urged Mr Duterte to restore the lockdown, as they warned that hospitals were again overwhelmed with Covid-19 patients.
Researchers at the University of the Philippines said on Tuesday they expect the tougher curbs to prevent at least 50,000 new cases. They said infections would have topped 220,000 by the end of the the month if the government stays the course.
"This virus is not going to go away easily," said Economic Planning Secretary Karl Chua.
"But if we do nothing right now, while the healthcare system is in dire need, our recovery won't be sustainable," he said.
"We have to dance with the virus," he added.