DOH explains spike in COVID-19 cases since easing of lockdown

Bonz Magsambol
DOH explains spike in COVID-19 cases since easing of lockdown
(UPDATED) Since the national government eased community quarantine in Metro Manila and other parts of the country, daily fresh cases have been higher than in the previous weeks

MANILA, Philippines (UPDATED) – Health Undersecretary Maria Rosario Vergeire on Tuesday, June 9, said the spike in “fresh” cases the past days didn’t mean the COVID-19 cases in the country was increasing. 

During a virtual briefing on Tuesday morning, Vergeire said this could be the result of the laboratories improved reporting of cases. 

Yes, our fresh cases are increasing. But this can be a function of reporting since we’re already completing the daily submission of list of cases from laboratories,” Vergeire said in a mix of English and Filipino.

The rise in fresh cases could be because of the delayed testing of the samples brought to the laboratories, she said: “As I’ve said, maybe the sample for this test was received 5 days before it was actually tested, but was only tested 3 days ago.”

For the past 3 days, daily fresh cases hovered around 300 – higher than in the previous weeks. 

This came after the easing of community quarantine in Metro Manila and other parts of the country starting June 1, despite warnings from experts. (READ: ‘Premature’ to ease modified ECQ in Metro Manila – U.P. experts)

How fast is the virus reproducing in PH? In an analysis by the Imperial College of London and the University of Sussex, the Philippines’ COVID-19 reproduction rate doubled to 2.19 on May 31 from 1.05 on May 24. 

The government coronavirus task force began easing quarantine measures in various parts of the country on May 15. 

The computation was based on the reported cases, and took into account the quarantine measures, social distancing, and tracking undertaken by the country.  

Can the numbers be reported more accurately? According to the DOH, “fresh” cases are test results that came out and had been validated by its Epidemiology Bureau in the last 3 days, while “late” cases are test results that came out 5 days or older, but were only validated recently.

To accurately report COVID-19 cases, Vergeire said they are looking now at the onset of illness to determine fresh cases. 

“We really need to revisit the onset of illness because that would be the most accurate way to determine if cases are new, and we’re already doing that now,” Vergeire said.

Professor Jomar Rabajante of the University of the Philippines COVID-19 Pandemic Response Team told Rappler on Tuesday night that the onset of illness would be a good measure for reporting new cases since it is not affected by the delay in testing or swabbing.

“The swabbing or testing or validation of results will not affect onset of illness. So far, the onset date is relatively closer to infection date, which on the average will manifest 5 to 6 days before the symptoms. Compared to 19 days of reporting delays, there will be only 5 to 6 days delay if onset will be used,” Rabajante said in a mix of English and Filipino.

What do the rising numbers mean? The DOH keeps a tally of both confirmed and positive cases. The positive cases are only added to confirmed cases on the day they are validated by the agency.

The DOH said the validation of tests would ensure that cases would not be recorded in duplicates, and that all test results had been submitted to the DOH.

Vergeire advised the public to be cautious in interpreting the COVID-19 numbers: “Just because fresh cases were increasing in the past 3 days doesn’t mean COVID-19 cases are actually rising. We’re fixing this, and the data analytics group is also working on this to give proper recommendation to the inter-agency task force.”

Vergeire also said during a virtual forum Tuesday afternoon that Philippine laboratories have a total of 1,500 remaining cases that have yet to be verified. The government has been testing more “asymptomatic” cases.

As of Tuesday, the Philippines recorded 22,992 cases of coronavirus infections, with 1,017 deaths and 4,736 recoveries. –


Bonz Magsambol

Bonz Magsambol is a multimedia reporter for Rappler, covering health, education, and social welfare. He first joined Rappler as a social media producer in 2016.