Increase in COVID-19 cases due to 'genuine' surge, not PH's testing capabilities

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Metro Manila (CNN Philippines, 21 August) – The increase in the COVID-19 cases is due to "genuine surge" and not because of the government's testing capabilities, said former Health Secretary Esperanza Cabral and University of the Philippines OCTA Research Fellow Guido David.

In an online news forum hosted by the Foreign Correspondents’ Association of the Philippines (FOCAP) Friday afternoon, both David and Cabral said this is because of positivity rates higher than 5%.

“The positivity rate in the country in the past 2 or 3 weeks has really been much higher than 5%. The average positivity rate is about 8.6 or 9 but there are days that the positivity rate goes up to 14,” Cabral said.

David added, “if the positivity rate is high, that means that there is a genuine surge. So, if we’re doing a lot more testing but the positivity rate is below 5%, then that means the increase in numbers is due to the testing. But right now, we were seeing an actual surge.”

Earlier this month, the Health Department stated that the country had taken the “top spot” in terms of testing capacity in Southeast Asia.

David also hopes the reimposition of modified enhanced community quarantine or MECQ in Metro Manila and some neighboring provinces from August 4-18 would result in a lower number of cases.

He said, judging by current numbers, cases would only reach 220-225,000 – a few thousand short of their 230,000 case projection, had government implemented the second highest form of lockdown for only two weeks.

This is lower than the 250,000 total cases projected by UP OCTA if no MECQ was done, but higher than the 210,000 case projections if the MECQ was implemented for a full month.

The call to revert back to stringent quarantine measures was due to healthcare workers’ call for a “time out” – and as early as now, some hospitals were already reporting lower numbers of COVID-19 infections among staff after such measures were implemented.

READ: Stricter quarantine rules contain infections among healthcare workers, data show

Suggestions for government’s anti-COVID efforts

Both Cabral and David agreed that communicating the need for people to own up and follow health protocols should be prioritized by government, and that citizens should also take responsibility.

“I think from the very start, we have lacked in our communication to the people,” Cabral said.

“We have lacked in inviting them to be co-owners of this particular problem and to invite them into doing these things,” she added as she referred to the observance of minimum health standards such as the proper use of face protection, social distancing, going out only for essential travels, and handwashing.

She also said, efforts by government to tell people about their share in protecting themselves against the virus go hand-in-hand with contact tracing and isolation.

David shared the same view, saying that they also recognize the need to strike a balance between the economy and making people aware that being in lower forms of quarantine is not similar to how life was before the pandemic.

“We understand that there’s a need to open the economy, so what we want to do is to do a GCQ but it should be a lot more stringent compared to the last GCQ that we had,” David said.

Cabral also approved of a suggestion to change how quarantine classifications are called – by using an alert level system instead of acronyms.

“That could work of course. The easier to understand, the better. But, what’s important is when you say Alert 1, Alert 2, Alert 3, you also need to know what is the meaning of Alert 1, Alert 2, and Alert 3,” she said.

Currently, alert levels are used to determine volcanic activity in the country.

David also said that despite the current pandemic situation in the Philippines, it is still not out of control, and that government can still manage to curb its effects.

“We can still manage this. Local governments are going to step up now and do what they have to do,” David said. “We’re hoping that the community will do their part. This what we really require of them.”

Coronavirus cases in the Philippines now stand at 182,365, with 2,940 deaths and 114,519 recoveries, according to August 21 data from the Department of Health.