Virus cases top 1,000 as DOH steps up tests
MANILA, Philippines — The total number of new coronavirus disease (COVID-19) cases in the country breached the 1,000th mark on Saturday after the Department of Health (DOH) reported that 272 people tested positive for SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes the respiratory illness.
Health Undersecretary Maria Rosario Vergeire reiterated in an online press briefing that the three-digit increase—the first since the DOH started daily updates three weeks ago—brought the nationwide tally to 1,075, mainly due to the health department’s increased testing in new laboratories nationwide.
Vergeire said the public should expect the number of new cases to continue to rise over the next few days, especially as the various subnational laboratories begin their operations.
“This means that more samples are being tested now so we can expect that there will be an increase in the number of new cases in the coming days,” Vergeire said. “It’s much better that we find out who the positive cases are so they can be given immediate treatment.”
Vergeire said that, initially, the subnational laboratories can process 80 to 160 tests a day while the Research Institute for Tropical Medicine in Muntinlupa City can process up to 1,000 tests a day.
The four subnational laboratories are San Lazaro Hospital in Manila, Baguio General Hospital in Baguio City, Vicente Sotto Memorial Medical Center in Cebu City and the Southern Philippines Medical Center in Davao City.
Vergeire said the Lung Center of the Philippines is expected to be capable of conducting full-scale testing by March 30.
On the P500 allowance
The DOH, Vergeire said, also offered apologies to various stakeholders who may have had the impression that the P500 allowance the DOH was giving to volunteer doctors, nurses and nurse assistants represented how the agency valued health workers.
“Nothing could be further from the truth,” Vergeire said. “I, too, am a doctor. We in the DOH know how important and how risky it is to be a health care worker during these times.”
She was responding to health groups who criticized the DOH on Friday for giving an “unjust and exploitative” P500 allowance despite the risks they take.
But Vergeire explained that the P500 allowance was based on the amount that was given to previous volunteers.
She said the health department was already working on how to increase the compensation.
“[Congress] already gave us a supplemental budget. We are just looking at how we can apportion it,” she said, adding that 593 health workers have already signed up even before the DOH announced the planned increase in compensation.
PPE supply running short
“We thank you for your bravery and compassion for your fellow Filipino,” Vergeire told the volunteers.
At present, she said, much of the budget has been allocated for the procurement of personal protective equipment (PPE), which are already in short supply in various hospitals.
Health Secretary Francisco Duque III earlier said the DOH had asked Congress for a supplemental budget of P2.25 billion. On Friday night, he said the department had already placed an order of P1.8 billion worth of PPE.
Globally, 598,070 have been infected by the coronavirus. The United States had the most number of cases among 177 nations with 104,839 cases, followed by Italy with 86,498, China 81,946, Spain 65,719 and Germany 50,871.
Italy and Spain reported the most deaths among the 27,761 reported worldwide.
14 more deaths
It was also the deadliest day in the Philippines thus far, with Vergeire reporting 14 more deaths, bringing the current death toll to 68.
All of the patients who died were age 71 on average and had preexisting ailments, such as hypertension, diabetes and chronic kidney disease.
Ten of them were from Metro Manila while one was from Bulacan. The residence of one of the fatalities was still being verified at press time.
Ten of those who died did not know they contracted the virus prior to their deaths. The family of Patient 729 waited the longest as his test results came back positive only on Wednesday, or six days after he passed on.
Two of the patients got their results on the same day they died while two others knew they were positive days before their death. All except one did not go to any of the virus-infected countries nor came in close contact with a known positive case.
Patient 635 is “related to a known COVID-19 case,” but the DOH did not disclose to whom she was related.
The number of individuals who have recovered from the virus is not rising as fast as the death count as only four patients were added to the list for a total of 35.
All four patients, age 55, 46, 30 and 72, did not go abroad or had been in contact with a known case.
Three were discharged after testing negative twice, while the elderly patient was sent home with one negative test.
Previously, the DOH discharged patients upon testing negative twice for the virus. But now, Vergeire said that a person who tested positive for the virus need not be tested again before being discharged by the hospital.
She said that the decision was “based on the recommendation of experts” to free up hospitals, especially if the patient is already stable and is just waiting for his results.
The new cases, Vergeire said, included three DOH physicians who are active in the front line of the fight against COVID-19.
Also among the new cases was a 35-year-old policeman from Pasay City, according to Police Brig. Gen. Bernard Banac, spokesperson of the Philippine National Police.
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