PH coronavirus cases may reach at least 60,000 by July 31 – experts

On the back of a continued increase in coronavirus cases, experts studying the coronavirus outbreak in the Philippines estimated the number of nationwide infections may reach at least 60,000 by the end of July as there is still “significant” community transmission of the disease in the country. 

A new study from the OCTA Research group of experts said current data from the health department showed the Philippines still observed an average reproduction number (R) of 1.28, which means the virus is still spreading. Experts have repeatedly said the goal of a country is to get its R or the number of people that one positive case can infect to below 1, which would indicate the outbreak was brought to a manageable level.  

The projection, however, is based on the lower end of an estimated 60,000 to 70,000 cases by July 31. The researchers provided a range of estimated cases starting from an R of 1.09, which was on the lower end of the observed R in the country, to the current average R of 1.28. 

The estimates yielded a result of more than 60,000 cases with an R of 1.09, over 65,000 cases with an R of 1.18, and more than 70,000 cases with an R of 1.28. 

The death toll, meanwhile, could reach 1,300 by July 31 as the experts noted the death rate has slowed down.  

The researchers include University of the Philippines (UP) mathematics professor Guido David, UP political science professor Ranjit Singh Rye, Maria Patricia Agbulos, and University of Santo Tomas biology professor Reverend Fr Nicanor Austriaco, who emphasized the projected increase in cases and deaths can still be prevented by “rapidly identifying and breaking chains of viral transmission.”  

An earlier study by the same group had estimated projected cases nationwide could reach 40,000 by June 30, while deaths could reach 1,850. The Philippines reported 35,455 coronavirus cases as of June 28, including 1,244 deaths and 9,686 recoveries. 

Where to look: The study notes community transmission remains uneven throughout the country but that “Central Visayas, especially Cebu City, has significantly higher transmission rates than the rest of the country.”  

The Department of Health earlier warned that Cebu City recorded the highest positivity rate in the country with about 33 out of every 100 persons testing positive. Cebu City was earlier placed on lockdown or an enhanced community quarantine (ECQ) as cases has been rapidly increasing. 

The experts said if Cebu City were to remain under ECQ, there may be around 15,000 cases by July 31. But if quarantine restrictions are relaxed after June 30, cases could surge to 20,000 to 30,000 July 31, based on transmission rates during the modified ECQ in Cebu City. 

Metro Manila likewise remains as a high risk area, with an estimated 27,000 cases projected by July 31.  

The study likewise reflected effects of increased mobility resulting from relaxed quarantine restrictions with an average of 271 fresh cases reported per day during ECQ in Metro Manila, to an average 396 fresh cases per day during modified ECQ, and an average of 583 fresh cases per day during general community quarantine. 

The trend, they said, showed an increase of 50% of fresh cases reported per day from one quarantine period to the next. 

The increase can partly be accounted for by increased testing capacity, though the experts note that the positivity rate from tests in the last two weeks is trending upwards, “suggesting that the pandemic is spreading more significantly.” They added the uptick reflects the current situation in Central Visayas and Cebu, where there has been a surge in cases. 

What should be done: The experts stressed the projected cases nationwide and in specific localities “represent a significant increase in transmissions and is a serious cause for concern” that warrants “appropriate and immediate response” by the government.

“It is time to change gears before we lose control of the situation. We need a new strategy that is characterized by empowered execution, treatment of citizens as partners, and relying on evidence-based policy and decision making,” they said. 

“The specific elements of a new approach can be further refined. What is urgent is to recognize that doing more of the same will not lead to better results,” they added. 

President Rodrigo Duterte is again expected to decide on quarantine measures across the country as current measures in place will last until June 30. – Rappler.com

Sofia Tomacruz

Sofia Tomacruz covers foreign affairs, the overseas Filipino workers, and elections. She also writes stories on the treatment of women and children. Follow her on Twitter @sofiatomacruz. Email her at sofia.tomacruz@rappler.com.

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