Despite COVID-19 pandemic, fewer deaths recorded in 2020 vs 2019
MANILA, Philippines — Even as the COVID-19 pandemic raged on last year, the number of deaths in the country recorded by the Philippine Statistics Authority (PSA) declined by 3 percent to 601,811.
Citing the latest preliminary data coming from the city and municipal registrars nationwide, the PSA on Friday reported that the deaths registered in 2020 were lower than the 620,414 in 2019.
The PSA report did not include the deaths of Filipinos working or living abroad.
According to the PSA, only the months of July, August, and September 2020 posted higher deaths year-on-year, while the rest of the months recorded lower registrations compared to a year ago levels.
During the most stringent enhanced community quarantine (ECQ), late death registrations surged in March and April last year with 6,540 and 6,017, respectively, due to restrictions on the non-essential movement of people.
PSA data showed this late reporting was eventually reduced as quarantine restrictions gradually eased.
The PSA said “the number of registered deaths in January, February, and May to November  already exceeded their corresponding monthly averages in the last five years.”
On the other hand, the PSA said “registered March and April deaths remain relatively low despite catch up in registration until December.”
In Metro Manila, the number of deaths last year increased by 6.8 percent to 83,980 from 78,604 in 2019, the PSA said.
When the PSA started to release death statistics more frequently last year amid the pandemic, National Statistician Dennis Mapa said they were working on eventually including data on causes of death to see the impact of COVID-19 vis-à-vis other causes.
Sought to comment, Acting Socioeconomic Secretary Karl Kendrick Chua on Saturday acknowledged that the PSA report was still “being updated as new death certificates come in due to late reporting in some areas due to quarantine.”
But Chua, who chairs the PSA board as head of the state planning agency National Economic and Development Authority (Neda), said a breakdown of death statistics would show “fewer accidents, drowning, injuries, and communicable diseases” as causes of deaths last year.
Chua said more deaths were being recorded due to non-communicable diseases.
“As a growing economy, we welcome fewer deaths, but it’s sad that we have far more deaths also from other factors that need our care,” Chua said.
Chua had been urging a safe reopening of the economy with minimum health standards to prevent COVID-19’s spread still in place, as he pointed to rising hunger, joblessness, and even other diseases not getting paid attention to in areas that remained under stricter quarantine.
As COVID-19 vaccines trickled in and mass vaccination started among health care workers this month, Chua said the economy was “on track” to revert to the growth of 6.5-7.5 percent this year.
Last year, the Philippines suffered its worst post-war recession, with the 9.5-percent drop in the gross domestic product (GDP) amid the longest and most stringent COVID-19 quarantine in the region shedding millions of jobs and shutting down thousands of businesses.
In a report published Friday, the Washington-based multilateral lender International Monetary Fund (IMF) said “challenges caused by government capacity constraints in implementing and enforcing lockdowns, especially in more densely populated emerging markets with greater levels of informality and poverty may have made lockdowns less effective” in the Philippines, India, and Indonesia.
“Limited health care capacity, including in testing and tracing, may have also affected the effectiveness of lockdowns. Several countries ramped up testing and tracing capabilities, but some countries lagged behind” such as the Philippines and Indonesia at the onset of the pandemic, the IMF’s Asia-Pacific department said in its “Policy Advice to Asia in the COVID-19 Era” report.
Also, the IMF said it did not help that the Philippines had a “limited or insufficiently implemented fiscal stimulus.”
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