COVID-19 cases breach 60,000 earlier than projected; may hit 85,000 by end-July

Bonz Magsambol

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Researchers caution the national government against 'prematurely downgrading the quarantine status in Cebu City and the NCR'

The number of COVID-19 cases in the Philippines might hit at least 85,000 by the end of July, according to a recent projection by the OCTA Research Group.

The group had earlier predicted a minimum of 60,000 cases by July 31 due to continued community transmission of COVID-19. However, on Friday, July 17 – half a month ahead – the Philippine Department of Health (DOH) already recorded 63,001 cases, including 1,841 new confirmed cases, 1,660 deaths, and 21,748 recoveries. 

Using the data from the DOH as of July 10, the researchers estimated the current reproduction number (R) of the Philippines at around 1.75, from 1.28 in its last forecast on June 29 – and the “trend is increasing.”

“Assuming that the reproduction number R remains and there is no significant change in the interventions and strategies by the government, based on our revised projections, the current number of cases in the Philippines will increase to more than 85,000 and 2,000 deaths by end of July 2020,” the researchers said.

Experts have repeatedly said the goal of a country is to get its R – or the number of people that one positive case can infect – to below 1, which would indicate the outbreak has been brought to a manageable level.  

The researchers include University of the Philippines mathematics professor Guido David, UP political science professor Ranjit Singh Rye, Maria Patricia Agbulos, and University of Santo Tomas biology professor Reverend Fr Nicanor Austriaco.

‘Concerning situation’

The group raised the alarm on the situation in the National Capital Region (NCR) because of the continued increase in the number of cases, positivity rates, and hospital resource utilization. 

According to the group, the positivity rate in Metro Manila rose to about 12% in July, from a low of 6% in May. The World Health Organization recommends a positivity rate of less than 5% to control the spread of the virus. 

“The reproduction number in NCR has already increased to 1.75. This surge, if left unabated, poses a real danger of the virus leading not just to exponential growth in the number of cases and deaths but also to overwhelm the healthcare system in the NCR,” the group said. 

On July 14, the DOH said Metro Manila had reached the “danger zone” in terms of bed capacity for coronavirus patients, while 4 other regions were already at the warning level.

According to DOH data, 76% of beds for COVID-19 patients in the NCR are already occupied, placing the region’s critical care capacity in the “danger zone.”

Meanwhile, at least 4 Metro Manila hospitals announced that they had reached full capacity of allocated COVID-19 beds in their intensive care units as of July 14.

The group said the continuation of the less stringent general community quarantine (GCQ) in NCR could lead to 45,000 total cases by the end of July and 80,000 total cases with 2,800 deaths by the end of August.

On Wednesday, July 15, President Rodrigo Dutertre extended the GCQ in NCR until July 31, but the government warned that it could place the capital region to modified enhanced community quarantine (MECQ) if COVID-19 cases continue to rise in the capital region in the next two weeks.

During the Palace briefing, Presidential Spokesman Harry Roque said Duterte had approved placing Metro Manila under the stricter MECQ, but the mayors lobbied him not to do so, and instead promised to double efforts to contain the virus.

To sustain the current GCQ in NCR, the UP researchers laid out two options: aggressive and effective localized lockdowns, and tightened quarantine restrictions.

However, the group said that “it is recommended that the government consider placing the NCR under MECQ for 14 days, with emphasis on stricter compliance with minimal public health standards.”

Situation in Cebu province

While average R in Cebu province has gone down to 1.14 from a high of 2, the researchers said that it remains a high-risk area with a high number of community transmissions.

According to the group, the strategy in Cebu province to contain the virus has been working. 

“The stricter quarantine status together with the scaled-up testing, tracing, isolation, and treatment strategies implemented by the national and local governments and supported by the community have significantly decreased the R  for Cebu province to 1.14 from a high of  2 a month ago,” the group added.

They recommended the government to continue the strict quarantine strategy in the province to “sustain the gains already achieved.”

“We caution the national government against prematurely downgrading the quarantine status in Cebu City and the NCR,” the group warned. –

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Bonz Magsambol

Bonz Magsambol covers the Philippine Senate for Rappler.