DOH sees COVID case surge after Christmas
MANILA, Philippines — Health officials on Thursday warned of a rise in COVID-19 cases in the country following Christmas family reunions and merrymaking, but they said this could still be tempered by strict adherence to health measures.
“It is not a question anymore if a surge will happen, but when and by how much. We have the power to influence how big or small the surge may be,” Health Undersecretary Maria Rosario Vergeire said.
Vergeire cited the increase in the number of infections in Canada and the United States after their Thanksgiving celebration in November when people traveled to spend the holiday with their loved ones.
As a result, she said, Canada’s seven-day average of new infections is now growing to about 5,000 new cases per day and the US average is 200,000.
Health Secretary Francisco Duque III said hospitals, especially those that are privately run, should brace themselves for a possible postholiday rise in the number of cases and dedicate more beds and mechanical ventilators for patients with the severe respiratory disease.
Speaking at a meeting of Cabinet officials on Wednesday night, Duque called on local government officials to ensure that isolation beds at the treatment and monitoring centers were enough.
The Department of Health (DOH) is also making sure that laboratories would continue processing coronavirus tests during the holidays, he said.
Duque said the public should continue to observe basic health measures to prevent the spread of the virus.
Aside from wearing masks and face shields, observing physical distancing, frequent handwashing, and avoiding crowded and enclosed areas, people should avoid activities that make them eject respiratory droplets into the air, he said. These include singing and eating directly in front of others, Duque said.
He said using trumpets for noise-making “would be akin to blowing the COVID-19 virus into the air.”
‘Weaker’ health system
Vergeire appealed to the public to follow the government’s advice to observe health measures, especially since the health system would be “weaker” in January after the Christmas and New Year celebrations.
She explained that many training hospitals “are in the transition phase where the senior residents are replaced by the newer ones” early in the year.
“We must also take note that the staff can be on an end-of-contract break … Also, there are usually more consults or admissions during this time for non-communicable diseases like hypertension and diabetes,” Vergeire said.
Authorities also fear a spike in cases during the holidays when large numbers of people go out to buy gifts.
According to Vergeire, health authorities are already seeing telling signs of a rise in the number of new infections. Nationally, they have seen the two-week case growth rate “worsen” from -16 percent to -4 percent.
Metro Manila, Ilocos, the Cordillera Administrative Region (CAR), and Cagayan Valley have also seen a trend reversal in cases, from “negative to positive growth.” The number of new cases was highest in the National Capital Region (NCR), CAR, Calabarzon, and Davao.
The reproductive rate across the country has also increased from 0.8 to more than 1, she said.
“For NCR, more than half of cities have been showing increase in cases while the remaining half have shown slowing of improvement. Increased vigilance is necessary across all NCR local government units given [that their] proximity to each other increases transmission risk,” she said.
Vergeire said cases in Metro Manila “may reach upward of 4,000 per day which may overwhelm our health system capacity to upward of 80-percent utilization by end-January if we do not act aggressively to halt transmission now.”
On Thursday, the DOH logged 1,470 new cases, pushing the national caseload to 454,447. Quezon City reported the highest number of new infections (74), followed by Rizal (64), Makati (58), Davao (55), and Quezon province (46). The number of survivors rose to 419,902 with the recovery of 633 patients. The death toll increased to 8,850 after 17 patients died.
The recoveries and deaths left the country with 25,695 active cases, of which 84.8 percent are mild, 6.9 percent asymptomatic, 0.3 percent moderate, 2.7 percent severe and 5.4 percent critical.
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