China experts warn Philippines can fail vs COVID-19

MANILA, Philippines (UPDATED) – Medical experts sent by China warned that the Philippines faces a “significant risk” of failing to contain COVID-19, as they cited limited hospital beds, medical supplies, and testing capacities in the Southeast Asian country.

“They found that the Philippines faced a significant risk of not being able to completely cut off the source of the infection,” reported the Chinese state-run CCTV Asia Pacific on Tuesday, April 14.

The Chinese experts reached this conclusion after they visited 6 hospitals, including the Research Institute for Tropical Medicine, and spoke with Filipino experts via videconferencing.

Wang Shangeng, head of the team of Chinese medical experts, explained to CCTV Asia Pacific that “because of limited beds and testing capacities in the Philippines, many of the COVID-19 patients are still quarantined at home.” 

Wang then recommended the immediate establishment of a Fangqang shelter hospital in the Philippines. He said building a Fangcang hospital is a “fundamental measure” in fighting COVID-19.

First made in China in February, Fangqang hospitals “were large-scale, temporary hospitals, rapidly built by converting existing public venues, such as stadiums and exhibition centers, into healthcare facilities,” according to the medical journal The Lancet. The Fangcang hospitals helped in isolating COVID-19 patients with mild to moderate symptoms in China. 

The Phiippines has also converted large-scale venues, such as the Philippine International Convention Center, the Rizal Memorial Sports Complex, and the World Trade Center as national quarantine centers, each with hundreds of beds.

Increase testing capacity

“It (coronavirus outbreak) will be better controlled by increasing testing capacity,” Wang added.

The government is currently aiming to test around 20,000 people per day by April 27. While testing would be expanded, patients under investigation and persons under monitoring would still be prioritized to avoid overwhelming Philippine health facilities and laboratories.

Wang said the team expressed optimism in the doubling of testing sites from 8 laboratories to 16 laboratories. It also said improvements were seen in the further development of local treatment and diagnostic guidelines among health workers.

‘Masks looked wrinkled’

The problem does not end, however, with the lack of hospital beds and testing facilities.

In his interview with CCTV Asia Pacific, Wang also noted the shortage of medical supplies, particularly face masks, in Philippine hospitals.

“The Philippine medics take various face masks, different kinds of masks. Even some masks looked wrinkled from the outside. It’s obviously used more than once. What does that say? It shows that the epidemic supplies are very scarce,” said Wang.

He added that personal protective equipment or the PPE of Philippine medics are “reused several times,” when these PPEs “should be disposable.”

Wang said: “This gives us the impression that the medics are very dedicated and have the spirit of devotion. They are the heroes in fighting the epidemic, and are worth applauding.”

The number of health workers infected with the coronavirus in the Philippines nearly tripled in a span of 9 days with 766 positive for the disease as of Friday. Of the total, 339 are doctors and 242 are nurses. At least 22 health workers have died of the coronavirus disease.

The Chinese experts’ recommendations come as COVID-19 cases continue to rise in the Philippines while new cases continue to drop in China. The Philippines confirmed 207 new COVID-19 cases on Thursday, April 16, bringing the total to 5,660. At least 362 people have died of the coronavirus in the Philippines. 

Meanwhile, in China, the number of new COVID-19 cases was at a two-week low on Thursday, after the Chinese government recorded 26 new cases on the mainland, according to Reuters. There have reportedly been 82,367 COVID-19 cases in China. 

China is the country where the COVID-19 pandemic originated, and has been hailed by President Rodrigo Duterte as a model in fighting the disease. Duterte’s spokesman Harry Roque has touted China as the Philippines’ “BFF,” which, according to him, should therefore prioritize the Philippines when it discovers a cure for COVID-19.

International experts have cautioned against believing China’s propaganda about COVID-19, however, as the Asian giant is accused of faking its COVID-19 figures and initially concealing the discovery of the disease in the Chinese province of Hubei.

On Friday, April 17, the city of Wuhan in Hubei, where the virus is believed to have first emerged, raised its death toll by 50%, saying that many fatal cases were "mistakenly reported" or missed entirely. In a social media post, the city government said it had added 1,290 deaths to its tally, bringing the total number of fatalities in Wuhan to 3,869.

The increase also pushes the nationwide death toll up by nearly 39% to 4,632, based on official national data released earlier on Friday.

 

Critics have warned countries that China is using COVID-19 aid to cover up for its failure in preventing a pandemic. – with reports from Sofia Tomacruz and AFP/Rappler.com

Paterno R. Esmaquel II

Paterno R. Esmaquel II is a senior reporter leading Rappler’s coverage of religion and foreign affairs. He finished MA Journalism in Ateneo and MSc Asian Studies (Religions in Plural Societies) at RSIS, Singapore. For story ideas or feedback, email him at pat.esmaquel@rappler.com.

image