PH coronavirus cases surge past 164,000 as Duterte decides on Mega Manila MECQ

The total number of coronavirus cases in the Philippines climbed past 164,000, after the Department of Health (DOH) reported over 3,000 new cases on Monday, August 17. 

Reports from 91 out of 105 testing laboratories listed 3,314 newly reported cases, bringing the total confirmed cases to 164,474.

The DOH said 86% of newly reported cases occurred in the last 14 days. Among the regions with the most number of new cases were Metro Manila, Calabarzon, and Central Luzon. 

The latest figures come as President Rodrigo Duterte decides on the next community quarantine levels to implement in Mega Manila – Metro Manila, Rizal, Cavite, Laguna, and Bulacan – where the current modified enhanced community quarantine (MECQ) is set to lapse on Tuesday, August 18.

The capital region was supposed to remain under general community quarantine from August 1 to 15, but medical workers pleaded with President Rodrigo Duterte to tighten quarantine restrictions as cases soared. 

The DOH also reported 18 new deaths on Monday, raising the death toll to 2,681. Meanwhile, there were 237 more recoveries, bringing total recoveries to 112,759. 

The latest total number of cases surpassed an earlier projection made by researchers studying the pandemic in the country. The Octa group of experts earlier estimated nationwide cases may reach 150,000 by the end of August, but later adjusted this to 230,000 as cases increased. 

If the current MECQ will be extended for another 15 days, the researchers said cases may reach 210,000 by August 31 based on current trends and government response. 

Clusters of cases growing

In a press briefing on Monday, the DOH said it was monitoring a cumulative total of 1,245 clusters nationwide, majority of which were seen in communities. 

Of the 1,245 clusters, about 84.7% or 1,054 were in communities, 5.5% or 68 in hospitals, 2.4% or 30 in jails and prisons, and 7.5% in other settings like workplaces, accommodations, and transportation. 

The regions with the highest number of areas with clustering were Metro Manila, Calabarzon, Central Visayas, and Central Luzon: 

Metro Manila: 411 clusters (33%)

  • 333 communities
  • 34 hospitals/health facilities
  • 12 jails/prison
  • 32 other settings

Calabarzon: 216 (17%)

  • 198 communities
  • 5 hospitals/health facilities
  • 3 jails/prison
  • 10 other settings

Central Visayas: 176 (14%)

  • 162 communities
  • 3 hospitals/health facilities
  • 7 jails/prison
  • 4 other settings

Central Luzon: 68 (5%)

  • 61 communities
  • 2 hospitals/health facilities
  • 3 jails/prison
  • 2 other settings

The DOH earlier attributed the rise in cases over the last few days to sustained community transmission of the disease. 

Malacañang, meanwhile, also pointed to increased testing for detecting more cases, though this alone does not account for the increase in cases. Experts noted that the number of people hospitalized and the percentage of people testing positive were rising, which means the virus was still spreading. 

The Octa group of experts urged the national government to consider extending the MECQ in Mega Manila for the next 15 days, warning that if it were lifted prematurely, "we will need to deal with the outbreak in the NCR entering a phase of uncontrolled and very rapid growth."

"We are faced with a choice not between the economy or public health but between a less or more costly disruption among ordinary Filipinos. Premature lifting of the MECQ could squander our gains and bring us to square one, making our interventions more costly and eroding the trust of the people," they said. – Rappler.com

Sofia Tomacruz

Sofia Tomacruz covers foreign affairs and is the lead reporter on the coronavirus pandemic. She also writes stories on the treatment of women and children. Follow her on Twitter via @sofiatomacruz. Email her at sofia.tomacruz@rappler.com.

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