Lockdown must be extended for months to prevent Italy-like scenario, data scientist says
A woman walks across a deserted Pope Pius XII square in Rome, near the Vatican's St. Peter's Square (Rear), on March 19, 2020 during the lockdown within the new coronavirus pandemic.
FILIPPO MONTEFORTE / AFP
Lockdown must be extended for months to prevent Italy-like scenario, data scientist says
Ratziel San Juan (Philstar.com) - April 2, 2020 - 5:25pm

MANILA, Philippines — The quarantine being enforced across Luzon and parts of the Visayas and Mindanao may have to be extended for several months since the Philippines has not yet contained the spread of coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) as suggested by data, a scientist said Thursday.

Darwin Bandoy, a Filipino genomic data scientist and doctor of veterinary medicine from the University of the Philippines and the University of California, said that the country has not yet reached the point where its healthcare capacity can accommodate severe cases of COVID-19 should the country's infection rate continue to rise.

Bandoy is listed as a PhD candidate of Integrative Pathobiology at the School of Veterinary Medicine at the University of California.

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“Based on the current data that is being generated from the Philippines, we have not yet flattened the curve and we need a few more months to completely flatten the curve,” Bandoy said in a Thursday interview with ANC.

“So when we say 'flatten the curve,' it's reducing the number of cases. There's a threshold that we want to reach and the threshold that we want to reach is the healthcare capacity and the condition for that healthcare capacity in simple terms is the number of ventilators for severe cases.”

RELATED: What ‘flatten the curve’ means in controlling the spread of COVID-19

The scholar said that the Philippines only has around 1,500 ventilators, estimating that a third of which are in Metro Manila.

“So if our severe cases went beyond that, it will be like Italy. We will be selecting who will die or not.”

Italy has recorded at least 12,430 deaths due to COVID-19 as of writing, the most in any country affected by the pandemic and accounting for more than a quarter of global deaths, according to the latest World Health Organization situation report.

“My estimate is that to prevent the current trajectory, we need a few more weeks and months to reduce that so that we will not overburden our healthcare which is already struggling as of the moment,” Bandoy said, estimating that it would take two to three months before the coronavirus curve is flattened.

The scientist said that if the enhanced community quarantine is lifted and "normal activity" resumes on April 14, "the epidemic curve will peak again after two to three months once you remove" the lockdown.

Better healthcare capacity could shorten quarantine

He recommended extending the quarantine until the country is equipped with the "necessary healthcare capacity in terms of hospital beds, in terms of ventilators" and if social distancing can be implemented properly on mass transportation.

“If we can implement proper transportation, social distancing procedures, disinfection, we can probably slowly introduce back to normal life but I wouldn't recommend opening school as of the moment,” he said.

Bandoy projects that if the lockdown is lifted and nothing is done to contain the outbreak locally, the peak number of COVID-19 cases in the Philippines would be around 250,000, with 1-3% of which (2,500 to 7,500 people) accounting for severe cases.

RELATED: COVID-19 cases in the Philippines could reach 75,000 in months if not contained — DOH

Bandoy also clarified that the model he used has limitations since the Philippines has not yet conducted mass testing.

“There's some backlog and therefore that would be the limitation because it's very difficult to see where we are actually in the epidemic curve based on the model because we cannot ascertain 100%,” he said.

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