‘Cause for concern’: Experts project 11,000 coronavirus cases in Cebu by June 30

(UPDATED) – As coronavirus cases increase across the Philippines, researchers urged the government to pay particular attention to Cebu island, the second most affected area in the country after Metro Manila.

Majority of the coronavirus cases on Cebu island are in Cebu City – which is administered independent from the province – with 3,439 cases. The local government units under Cebu province have at least 324 confirmed cases.

Research published on Thursday, June 11, by University of the Philippines mathematics professor Guido David, UP political science professor Ranjit Singh Rye, and Maria Patricia Agbulos – fellows of the OCTA research group of experts – cited Cebu as the “second major battleground” in the country’s fight against COVID-19.

Current data from the Department of Health examined by the group show the province’s reproduction number (R) is at about 2 (1.96), which means it continues to be a “high-risk” area where the disease continues to spread significantly.

“This should be a cause for concern for both the national and the local government of Cebu,” the experts said.

The reproduction number is used to measure the “transmission potential" of a disease or the number of people one positive case can infect. Experts urge areas to bring down their R number to below 1, which would indicate that it has the upperhand in containing the pandemic.

Why this matters: Cebu’s reproduction number is even higher than Metro Manila’s, which is currently estimated between .96 and 1.19. Based on current trends, experts projected cases in the province could reach 11,000, with 90 deaths, by June 30.

As of June 10, Cebu had the highest concentration of cases in the Visayas with 3,530 infections recorded.

Cebu City also outpaced Quezon City, recording the highest number of coronavirus cases at 2,549. Quezon City, which saw the highest number of cases in the capital region, counted 2,519 cases as of June 10.

Experts noted Cebu’s current reproduction number increased from below 1 on May 20 due to a surge in new cases and increased testing.

Cebu province eased its lockdown to general community quarantine (GCQ) on May 20.

What can be done: “The province of Cebu, specifically the metropolitan areas, will need to implement measures to reduce community transmissions and control the spread of the pandemic,” they said.

This should go hand in hand with reviewing strategies in both Cebu and Metro Manila, which continue to see a high concentration of cases, they said.

The easing of quarantine restrictions must be matched with tighter monitoring, stricter social distancing, and the wearing of PPE (masks and other protective equipment) and increased testing and surveillance as the working population begins to increase their exposure,” they said.

Constituents might be getting mixed signals from local authorities, however. Over the past month, Cebu Governor Gwen Garcia has compared the its coronavirus infection and death rates to other diseases like tuberculosis and dengue to highlight that the virus “is not as deadly as earlier projected.”

Garcia also used the comparison to assure the public it was the right time to transition from enhanced community quarantine to GCQ. She’s pushing to further downgrade to this modified GCQ by June 15.

Meanwhile, the UP experts said the coronavirus continued to see "significant" community transmission across the country, with the nationwide reproductive rate at 1.2. This means that if trends continue, coronavirus cases could reach 40,000 by June 30, while the death toll can reach 1,850. – with a report from Ryan Macasero/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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