No surge, but COVID-19 cases rising fast – DOH
MANILA, Philippines — The Department of Health (DOH) on Monday acknowledged that COVID-19 cases are fast increasing again, especially in Metro Manila where emergency rooms are getting swamped with patients, but advised against describing the situation as a “surge.”
“Let’s not use the word ‘surge.’ People panic when they hear that. Cases of people going to the hospital [emergency rooms] are increasing, but we need scientific evidence to say there is really a surge,” Health Undersecretary Maria Rosario Vergeire told a regular news briefing.
She mentioned Metro Manila and Central Visayas among specific areas where COVID-19 cases have been “consistently increasing in the past weeks.”
Hospital bed capacity is still at a “manageable level,” she said, “although we cannot deny that the number of patients is really increasing and our hospital directors are saying the increase in cases [is] sudden.”
“When we went around over the weekend we saw an increasing number of people in the ERs with symptoms of COVID. But to say that the system is overwhelmed, no,” Vergeire said.
The DOH, she said, believes the increase in cases is not due to the spread of the highly contagious UK and South Africa variants of SARS-CoV-2, the coronavirus that causes COVID-19, but to poor compliance with health measures such as wearing masks and face shields, physical distancing, and avoiding mass gatherings.
She maintained that Metro Manila does not need to be placed on lockdown, as the transmission can be stopped by targeted response in villages or cities and by stricter enforcement of health measures.
“It’s true that cases are rising, but we can’t say that the variants are solely the cause. The reason cases went up is we do not comply with health standards like improper [wearing of] masks and shields, going to crowded places,” Vergeire said.
She said the DOH had asked the help of the World Health Organization (WHO) to conduct further analysis of samples from COVID-19 cases to determine the extent of the spread of the UK and South Africa variants.
“As of now we don’t have community transmission [of the variants] yet. We are still further studying the cases,” Vergeire said.
The DOH logged 3,356 additional coronavirus infections on Monday, bringing the overall number of confirmed COVID-19 cases in the country to 597,763.
Only 61 more patients have recovered, raising the total number of COVID-19 survivors to 545,912, while five other patients have died, bringing death toll to 12,521, the DOH said.
The country had 39,330 active cases as of Monday. Of these cases, 91.2 percent were mild, 4 percent asymptomatic, 0.83 percent moderate, 2 percent severe, and 2 percent critical.
Among the people battling the virus are health workers at the University of the Philippines-Philippine General Hospital (UP-PGH), which has temporarily stopped admitting walk-in and non-COVID-19 patients due to staff shortage.
In a television interview on Monday, UP-PGH spokesperson Jonas del Rosario said 15 members of the hospital’s staff tested positive for the virus in the first four days of March, and 80 health workers were exposed to them.
Six of the quarantined health workers have tested positive for the coronavirus and they have mild symptoms, while the rest are asymptomatic, Del Rosario said.
“We will not be accepting non-COVID-19 patients in the meantime, but we will make exceptions for emergency cases, such as those with life-threatening conditions like heart attack, stroke, bleeding and accidents,” he said.
Del Rosario said at least 102 patients were in the UP-PGH COVID-19 ward and the hospital had been forced to convert some rooms to accommodate more COVID-19 patients as cases spiked.
UP-PGH is one of only three COVID-19 referral hospitals in the country, the other two being Lung Center of the Philippines in Quezon City and Dr. Jose N. Rodriguez Memorial Hospital (also known as Tala Hospital) in Caloocan City.
Dr. Michael Tee, a professor at UP-PGH, said hospitals were not yet full, but may eventually be unless the rise in virus cases were curbed.
To avoid straining the health service, Tee urged more use of local isolation centers for mild to moderate cases. These centers are schools and government sites opened last year to handle local virus cases.
Tee said barangay health emergency response teams must be reminded of their role in preventing the spread of the virus by isolating infected people in their communities.
Health rules enforcement
The Department of the Interior and Local Government (DILG), meanwhile, has directed local governments and the Philippine National Police to strictly enforce health measures to halt the spread of the coronavirus.
Bernardo Florece Jr., the DILG officer in charge, said in a statement on Monday that he had ordered the deployment of more policemen for the strict enforcement of health rules in Pasay City, Malabon, Navotas, Cebu City and Cebu province, which were experiencing rises in coronavirus infections.
Florece said local governments should have ordinances penalizing breach of health rules. “If the ordinances they passed have no penal clause, they should immediately amend [these] because an ordinance without penalties has no teeth,” Florece said.
In Manila, Mayor Francisco “Isko Moreno” Domagoso on Monday said barangay officials and the police would place communities with rising coronavirus cases on lockdown. The city public information office said residents of those communities would be provided their daily needs by the local government.
Several senators expressed alarm over the rising number of COVID-19 cases. Sen. Panfilo Lacson called on local governments to step up efforts to arrest the flare-up, while Sen. Grace Poe urged the national government to speed up its vaccination drive and Senate President Vicente Sotto III and Senate President Pro Tempore Ralph Recto called for stricter enforcement of public health measures.
—WITH REPORTS FROM MEG ADONIS, MARICAR CINCO, JEANNETTE I. ANDRADE AND MELVIN GASCON
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