As PH COVID cases rise, contrasting views on restrictions emerge | Inquirer News

As PH COVID cases rise, contrasting views on restrictions emerge

By: - Content Researcher Writer / @inquirerdotnet
/ 04:28 PM May 04, 2023

As PH COVID cases rise, contrasting views on restrictions emerge


MANILA, Philippines—Earlier this year, cases of COVID-19 in the Philippines dropped despite eased pandemic restrictions. However, cases surged again starting last month, with the nationwide positivity rate hitting as high as 17 percent.

“For now, our COVID-19 cases are plateauing, it is going down, [but] we have a few areas being monitored where COVID-19 admissions are increasing a little,” said Health Undersecretary Maria Rosario Vergeire, Department of Health (DOH) officer-in-charge, last January.


Vergeire also said that the country’s COVID situation was “generally manageable” given the decrease in the nationwide positivity rate. Records from DOH showed that cases of COVID-19 continued to fall from January until February this year.


According to data from the health department’s COVID-19 case bulletins, the weekly additional cases dropped to 832—or around 119 average daily cases—for February 20 to 26.

However, new COVID-19 cases saw a significant increase in April. A case bulletin report by the health department showed that an average of 450 infections per day were recorded from April 17 to 23.


It further increased by 42 percent from April 24 to 30, with an average of 637 daily COVID cases.


As of May 3, total COVID cases have reached 4,096,335. Of those, 7,565 were marked as active cases, 4,022,326 have recovered, and 66,444 died.

Amid the recent surge of infections, Vergeire said the number of daily COVID cases in the country may remain at 600 until June.

“Based on the projections, we are seeing that the number of cases will increase by up to 600 until June. Eventually, hopefully, the cases will start to go down after that month,” she said at a press briefing.

However, for health reform advocate and former special adviser to the National Task Force on COVID-19 Dr. Tony Leachon, estimates by the DOH might be lower than the actual numbers—citing the rising nationwide positivity rate.

“We have rising positivity rate close to 18%. We have not seen the peak or even the plateau. That’s why maybe they’re disregarding positivity rate,” Leachon said in a tweet posted on May 3.

“So why are we testing if we don’t value positivity rate? How do we stop the surge by doing status quo measures?  It is truly disturbing. Hopeful for enlightenment from [DOH],” he added.

In a separate tweet, Leachon attributed the increasing nationwide positivity rate to the “new Omicron XBB1.16 subvariant known as Arcturus, optional masking, complacency, increase in mobility, and waning wall of immunity.”

Rising positivity rate

Data from independent pandemic monitor OCTA Research showed that last February 6, the country’s positivity rate—the percentage of all COVID-19 tests that turned out positive for the virus—was 1.20 percent, the lowest so far since January.

Two months later, the nationwide positivity rate hit 7.40 percent on April 14, following the health department’s announcement that multiple cases of Omicron subvariant XBB.1.9.1 have been detected in the Philippines.

READ: PH logs cases of Omicron XBB.1.9.1 COVID-19 subvariant

As of May 3, the positivity rate in the Philippines rose to 17.1 percent—the highest so far this year.


However, Vergeire explained that the nationwide COVID-19 positivity rate is not a good basis for assessing the country’s COVID-19 situation as it is only derived from the number of individuals who have tested positive for COVID-19 in a specific number of RT-PCR tests conducted.

“Let me remind everybody that the positivity rate is not a good basis to tell the country’s COVID situation,” Vergeire said.

“No matter how high these positivity rates are, those are not accurate [basis] that can give us the picture and the situation that we have for COVID right now,” she said at a media briefing last May 2, speaking in a mix of English and Filipino.

The health undersecretary stressed that currently, there is a “tremendous decrease” in RT-PCR tests that are being done in the country.

“We know that the positivity rate is affected by the number of those who undergo RT-PCR tests for COVID. [M]ost of our citizens right now are using antigen, some are not having any tests at all [and] are just isolating themselves when they are sick,” said Vergeire.

Vergeire also previously said that it would be unfair for local governments and other sectors if the health department declared that the country is at high risk based only on the positivity rate.

Low utilization rate

Last month, amid increasing COVID cases, the DOH told the public that there was no need to panic as the health utilization rate, or available beds and services against occupancy, remained low throughout the country.

“The most important thing to look at and focus on is the utilization of the hospital, so even if we see that there is an increase in cases until we see that the utilization,” Vergeire said.

“Rest assured to all of our citizens, our hospitals are ready, we have gone through different variants already, especially during the delta period, and we have learned our lesson,” she continued.

READ: DOH: Low COVID-19 health utilization rate means we’re okay, no need to panic


According to DOH’s nationwide facilities data, as of May 1, there are 1,887 available facilities in the country for COVID-19 cases. The majority, or around 1,440 facilities, were classified as low risk—or 0 to 49 percent occupancy rate.

In terms of bed occupancy rate, 17.2 percent of all 24,430 beds for COVID-19 is currently occupied. This translates to 4,207 occupied beds and 20,223 vacant beds—which consists of 2,411 ICU beds and 22,019 non-ICU beds.

While the country’s health care utilization rate (HCUR) remained low, Leachon stressed that it has been “increasing gradually.”

“Mild cases expected but we can’t predict the future. The best is to prevent further surge while it’s manageable,” he said.

To mask or not to mask?

Following the rise in COVID-19 cases, President Ferdinand “Bongbong” Marcos Jr. last May 1 said that the government might bring back the mandatory use of face masks—depending on the recommendations of the DOH and Inter-Agency Task Force for the Management of Emerging Infectious Diseases (IATF).

“We’ll see if the IAFT and the DOH will have guidance I hope we don’t have to, but we might. But I hope not,” he said in an interview with reporters.

READ: Marcos: Gov’t might require use of face mask again amid rising COVID cases

On May 2, however, the DOH said there was no need to reimpose the mandatory face mask rule.

“We already have recommended to the Office of the President, based on the agreements coming from the IATF discussions, that there is no need to return the mandate. We need to shift the mindset of our countrymen,” Vergeire announced.

“Cases will increase and decrease in our country because the virus is here, it will not disappear, and the virus will mutate and produce variants every now and then,” she added.


Vergeire explained that what the public needed was for each individual to know how to protect themselves and their family—by choosing to wear a mask when going to high-risk places, especially if they are unvaccinated, immunocompromised, senior citizens, or pregnant.

READ: DOH: No need to reimpose mandatory face mask rule

In a television interview over CNN Philippines’ The Source, the health undersecretary explained that the DOH might recommend reimposing the mandatory use of face masks if the country’s COVID situation becomes critical.

“I am still an advocate of masking, DOH is still an advocate of masking, but we need to understand that we cannot go back and forth with our policies for COVID-19,” said Vergeire.

“We cannot go back to our restrictions every time there would be an increase in cases. We need to move forward on this,” she added.

Leachon, on the other hand, questioned the DOH recommendation.

“Why wait for escalation of COVID cases? Sense of urgency is key. I don’t understand the rationale behind this decision,” he said in a tweet.

“[W]e need to protect the people with the rising positivity rate. We need to make face masks mandatory and make it optional once the cases are controlled. But doing nothing is quite a big letdown because we will be perpetuating an error in the past.  It’s about public safety,” he added.

He emphasized that the use of face masks remains the cheapest, most important protective measure and the least disruptive of the minimum public health standards (MPHS) against COVID-19.

“Wearing face masks should be a way of life while we are trying to upgrade our booster rates and improve our fragile and weak healthcare system.”

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READ: Expert: Masks a must with new variants


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TAGS: Bongbong Marcos Jr., Coronavirus, coronavirus Philippines, COVID-19, Department of Health, DoH, face mask, INQFocus, Tony Leachon

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