The Philippines Recorded the Fastest Rise in COVID-19 Cases in the Western Pacific

In the past two weeks, the Philippines had the fastest rise in number of COVID-19 cases in the Western Pacific region. Our total number of new cases for that period exceeded that of Singapore’s, which is already on its second wave of infections.

According to a report on Inquirer, data from the World Health Organization (WHO) showed that the Philippines has recorded 8,143 cases since June 16, the highest among 27 countries in the region.

The Western Pacific region includes countries like China, Malaysia, Japan, New Zealand, Republic of Korea, and Vietnam.

Singapore came in second with 2,351 new cases during the same two-week period. China followed with 302 new cases.

Quarantine restrictions all over the Philippines eased on May 15, and since then, there’s been 22,935 new cases. That accounts for 66% of the country’s total, which stands at 34,803 cases.

In comparison, Singapore had 17,609 cases since May 15.

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The Philippines, however, has not yet seen a decline in the number of cases, and the country’ curve has not flattened yet.

Mike Ryan, Executive Director of the WHO’s Health Emergencies Program, said some countries could witness a “second peak” of cases even on its first wave, as “the disease has not been brought under control.”

The Department of Health said the increase in cases “could be mitigated through continued behavior change.” This means maintaining social distance, wearing a mask everywhere you go, washing your hands frequently, and disinfecting items.

“We all know what everyone should do, as well as our local government units who are our leaders in our response,” said Beverly Ho, head of the DOH Health Promotion and Communication Service.

There have been reports of individuals from Metro Manila returning to their home provinces and testing positive once they get there. However, the DOH maintains that there were no faulty tests, and that those individuals heading back to the province may have gotten infected after they were tested in Metro Manila.

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“Whenever we do testing, it’s a one-time event. This means that if your results are negative, then you went out, for example to do groceries, you may have been exposed again. That’s why we can’t give an assurance to a person who is negative [for COVID-19] that he will remain so until he gets home,” DOH Undersecretary Maria Rosario Vergeire clarified. 

Locally stranded individuals (LSI)—or individuals stuck in Metro Manila who are unable to return to their home provinces—had to wait five days for their test results, Vergeire said.

It’s possible that a non-positive individual interacted with an infected person in that timeframe. This could also explain why a previously negative individual can test positive once they arrive in their respective provinces. 

What about mass testing?

It is for this reason authorities have not done mass testing, or as defined by Presidential Harry Roque before, the testing of thousands of individuals, even if they do not have symptoms. He said what the Philippines is doing is “expanded targeted testing.”

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“This is why we do not want to do mass testing because even if you test the entire population today, tomorrow everyone will be subjected to exposures again. Not unless everybody stays home and no exposure will happen. But that is not the case,” Vergeire said.

Cebu City comes in second to Metro Manila for the most number of cases, and more people in the city have tested positive since quarantine restrictions eased. Vergeire said a team of epidemiologists was sent last week to assess if the stranded individuals who returned to Cebu City somehow contributed to the influx of cases.

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