What’s 3,000 to 4,000 COVID-19 case difference between UP, gov’t data? Success, according to execs
MANILA, Philippines — June 30 became a mark-your-calendar day for officials and scientists keeping tabs of the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) pandemic in the Philippines.
On that day, a panel of experts at the University of the Philippines (UP) predicted there would be at least 40,000 COVID-19 cases based on the analysis of data coming in about the disease.
A day before that, June 29, Philippine officials had celebrated what they said was an achievement that would show government gains in the fight against the pandemic—proving the UP projection wrong.
On June 29, DOH data showed the number of COVID-19 cases in the Philippines was 36,000, which tends to show that the UP projection was off by at least 4,000 cases.
“Let’s prove the UP data wrong,” exclaimed Harry Roque, Palace spokesperson, at an online press briefing on June 29 in Malacanang. “And we did!” he said.
With 36,000 cases on June 29, Roque could be numerically correct in declaring success based only on proving the UP data wrong.
In its tracker of COVID-19 cases, the expert panel of UP took note of a worrying trend in infections on June 8. The numbers were growing. This was at a time when stay-at-home orders were starting to soften.
The numbers crunched by UP were not reflective of optimism in the fight against the pandemic.
In the National Capital Region (NCR) alone, according to the UP tracker, there had been 222 new COVID-19 cases per day when the region was still on enhanced community quarantine (ECQ), during which stay-at-home orders crippled businesses, commerce, and jobs.
When NCR transitioned into modified enhanced community quarantine (MECQ), the number of cases per day rose to 375, the UP tracker summary said. This quarantine measure allowed people with work, classified as essential, to get out of their homes to travel to their job sites.
Under the current general community quarantine (GCQ), the number of cases in NCR, the economic heart of the Philippines, had risen to 549 cases per day, the UP tracker said. Under GCQ, stay-at-home orders were relaxed, allowing more people to get out to report for work, go to groceries or visit malls.
The UP tracker said the reproduction number, or Ro, of the virus in the Philippines is 1.2. “This indicates that the pandemic is still spreading and the curve has not yet flattened,” said the UP tracker.
Ro (pronounced R naught in some journals) is the estimated number of infections that a single coronavirus case generates. So if the virus Ro in the Philippines is 1.2, it means one case of coronavirus infection generates a little more than one case of a new infection.
The rate of spread of the virus stayed the same throughout the various forms of community quarantine that had been imposed throughout the Philippines as of late June, according to the UP tracker.
It said if the current value of the virus’ Ro in the Philippines did not change, there would at least be 40,000 COVID-19 cases and 1,850 fatalities by June 30. When June 30 came, however, government data showed the number of cases to be 37,000, at least 3,000 cases less than the UP projection, and the death toll to be 1,266, or at least 600 deaths short of the UP numbers.
Celebration in Malacañang
On June 29, when the official tally of COVID-19 cases was 36,000 throughout the Philippines, the fireworks, in the form of self-congratulatory messages, were lit in Malacanang.
It became a chance for Philippine government officials to claim victory in the fight against the pandemic, much akin to the act of patting one’s back.
At the press briefing in Malacanang on June 29, Roque declared success in proving the UP projection wrong. There was a difference of 4,000 cases that day between the UP numbers and official government data, which, no matter how close to the projected number, was a victory nonetheless for Roque.
Roque was quick to attribute it to what he said was the Duterte administration’s whole-of-government approach in fighting COVID-19.
When the number of cases zoomed past 50,000 to 54,222 just days after he reveled at the government achievement of proving the UP projection wrong by 4,000 cases, Roque said the spike could have been caused partly by more cases being discovered as a result of increased testing.
At the same June 29 briefing, Roque sought to correct reports that the Philippines had become No. 1 in Asia in the number of COVID-19 cases. “We’re just number six,” he said.
It could have been worse…
Roque also said had there been no lockdowns on Metro Manila and many parts of the country, the number of COVID-19 cases would have gone past 3 million.
Dr. Minguita Padilla, who was guest at the briefing given by Roque, said based on pieces of information and data gathered by Project Ark, lockdowns in Metro Manila and other parts of the Philippines had been effective.
Project Ark is a private sector initiative to ramp up testing and contact tracing to complement the Department of Health’s (DOH) efforts.
Padilla said testing by Project Ark would be ramped up to soon include those not showing symptoms of COVID-19.
The same briefing had Carlito Galvez, the chief implementer of the National Action Plan (NAP) against COVID-19, supporting Roque’s statement about government efforts succeeding in disproving the UP projection.
Galvez said he was not disputing the UP data and UP experts had been helping the government as consultants in action plans against coronavirus transmission. In other words, there was no quarrel with UP, said Galvez.
“We read the data and studies,” said Galvez at the June 29 briefing led by Roque.
But he confirmed that one of the goalposts of the government in its campaign to slow or stop coronavirus transmission had been the UP projection.
According to Galvez, disproving the UP projection served as the bull’s eye in the dartboard which the government was challenged to hit.
“We want to beat that prediction,” Galvez said of the UP tracker estimate of at least 40,000 COVID-19 cases in the Philippines by June 30. The UP projection, as DOH data showed, was off by 3,000 cases.
Galvez, former chief of the Armed Forces of the Philippines and currently a presidential adviser on the peace process, said government response to the pandemic was not likely to go astray because “the basis of our plans is the guidance of the President.”
He said spikes in cases in the Philippines could be attributed to “unseen variables.”
One such variable was the return of at least 100,000 overseas Filipino workers from foreign places that had been infected as well.
The spikes are “because of other areas,” said Galvez.
He cited progress being made in the battle with COVID-19 in Metro Manila where, he said, tests had gone up to at least 10,000 and on the way to 13,000 per day.
“I was impressed by what the mayors are doing,” Galvez said at the June 29 briefing.
“Metro Manila is much stricter than what we see in Cebu,” he said, referring to reports that lockdowns in Cebu province are not being faithfully enforced.
The increase in cases nationwide, he said, goes with the increase in testing which adds “automatic 700 cases” per day to the government COVID-19 tally.
Galvez added that he was proud of a recovery rate that has reached 6.2 percent.
He said the number of people who won the fight against COVID-19 could be much higher as 40-50 percent of recoveries are not being reported because reporting covered only patients admitted to hospitals.
In its tracker, UP said as of late June, there were still 6,359 cases of individuals who had tested positive for coronavirus but who are not on the official list of COVID-19 cases of the government. UP called it “backlog.”
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