Coronavirus deaths spike ahead of mass testing in Philippines

Supply of testing kits, labs set to help govt better gauge efficacy of community quarantine measures

Reverend Father Mark de Leon walking down the aisle in an empty Holy Rosary Parish Church at the start of a procession for Easter Mass in Angeles City in the Philippines' Pampanga province yesterday. In place of parishioners who were not present due
Reverend Father Mark de Leon walking down the aisle in an empty Holy Rosary Parish Church at the start of a procession for Easter Mass in Angeles City in the Philippines' Pampanga province yesterday. In place of parishioners who were not present due to social distancing measures amid the coronavirus outbreak, their photos were taped to the church pews. PHOTO: AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

Philippine health officials yesterday reported a record number of deaths in one day from the coronavirus, two days before they begin mass testing, which is expected to lead to a spike in the number of confirmed infections.

The Health Ministry reported that it had tallied 50 more deaths from Covid-19, the disease caused by the coronavirus. That brought the Philippines' total number of deaths from the virus to 297.

More have died in Indonesia - at least 370 people.

The Philippines also recorded 220 new infection cases, raising its total to 4,648.

Malaysia yesterday reported 153 new confirmed cases of Covid-19, bringing its total to 4,683, still the highest in South-east Asia. It also added three more deaths from the virus to bring its total to 76.

Thailand reported 33 new coronavirus infections, for a total of 2,551 cases, as well as three more deaths, taking the nation's toll to 38.

Coronavirus-related figures in the Philippines are expected to spike this month, as public health workers begin mass testing tomorrow. The Philippines reported its first confirmed case of Covid-19 on Jan 30.

But it was unable to test large numbers of suspected cases, as it had just 2,000 testing kits in its stockpile at the time and only one testing laboratory.

The Health Ministry was forced to limit testing to patients who showed severe symptoms, fuelling anxiety that the coronavirus could be spreading undetected across the country.

The Philippines has since received tens of thousands of testing kits from donor countries, including Singapore. A local university is also now able to mass-produce testing kits. Dozens of testing laboratories will also be coming online this month.

Health Undersecretary Maria Rosario Vergeire told reporters yesterday that over 33,000 patients had already been tested.

 
 

Former health secretary Manuel Dayrit said previously that the number of infections in the Philippines could reach at least 75,000.

A separate study from the University of the Philippines forecast a much higher number - up to 550,000 in metropolitan Manila, home to over 13 million.

Cabinet Secretary Karlo Nograles, a spokesman for a task force overseeing the government's response to the pandemic, said earlier that health officials should be testing close to 10,000 people a day by next Monday, and then up to 20,000 by April 27.

He said that should give the government a clearer picture as to whether an "enhanced community quarantine" - spanning half the country's population - has been helping to "flatten the curve".

President Rodrigo Duterte last week extended a sweeping, month-long lockdown over the northern third of the Philippines till the end of the month, as experts here had yet to ascertain the full impact of the coronavirus pandemic.

The lockdown has resulted in massive job losses and a crippling economic slump.

Mr Nograles said in a news briefing yesterday that the government has also decided to disclose to the public the personal information of patients who test positive for Covid-19. "This should enhance the contact-tracing efforts of the government," he said.

 
A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on April 13, 2020, with the headline 'Virus deaths spike ahead of mass testing in Philippines'. Subscribe