'No evidence yet,' says DOH of COVID-19 surge claim in Metro Manila

Citing lack of "definitive evidence," the Department of Health (DOH) on Tuesday, July 27, countered a claim that virus epicenter Metro Manila was already experiencing another surge in COVID-19 cases.

"While there is an observed increase in cases, there is no definitive evidence of a surge in the National Capital Region," the DOH said in a statement.

The DOH, however, acknowledged that the capital region had shown a 19% increase in its two-week growth rate and an average daily attack rate (ADAR) of 6 per 100,000 population, which is considered moderate risk. ADAR is the number of new cases in a city or province over a two-week period, divided by the population of the city or province. ADAR is considered high risk if it is 7 and above.

Without naming a particular group, the DOH appealed to "independent experts" to be more careful in making pronouncements about the pandemic situation in the country, "as this may cause more panic and fear."

"The DOH noted the observations of independent expert groups but maintains that such observations should be carefully verified," the agency said.

Earlier on Tuesday, independent group Octa Research said in a televised press briefing that Metro Manila was "officially in a surge," citing an increase in the area's reproduction number (R) to 1.33 from 0.6 last month. An R above 1 means that the virus is spreading faster.

The Octa team urged the government to place the country under a circuit-breaker lockdown for two weeks as the threat of the highly-transmissible COVID-19 Delta variant loomed.

Ironically, Health Secretary Francisco Duque III, who was also a guest in the same briefing, agreed with Octa's claim of a surge and their proposal of a circuit-breaker lockdown.

"Taman naman 'yon. Sinasang-ayunan naman natin ang rekomendasyon ng Octa kaya walang tigil ang ating pakikipag-ugnayan sa pamalahang lokal dahil sila naman on the ground ang implementing units para sa ating PDITR strategy," he said.

(Their findings are right. We agree with their recommendation, which is why we're continuously coordinating with local governments because they are on the ground implementing our Prevent-Detect-Isolate-Treat-Reintegrate or PDITR strategy.)

Earlier in July, the World Health Organization (WHO) had asked the DOH to be careful in tagging the Philippines as "low risk" for COVID-19, as giving the public the wrong message could result in "lower compliance" to minimum public health standards.

"It's not costly to err on the side of caution. We need to be consistent in our messaging. The public needs to be aware that the risk remains and that they need to follow protocols," WHO Representative to the Philippines Dr. Rabindra Abeyasinghe said.

The Philippines now has 119 known cases of the highly-transmissible Delta variant, but there are concerns that the actual number may be far higher, as the Philippine Genome Center is only sequencing a small percentage of the positive cases.

The Delta variant, which was first detected in India, is ravaging Southeast Asian countries like Indonesia, Thailand, and Malaysia.

To prevent further local transmission of the Delta variant, the Philippine government has imposed travel bans where it is widespread. – Rappler.com

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.

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