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COVID-19 strategy: Here's how Philippines can combat the pandemic, according to a data scientist

Patricia Lourdes Viray - Philstar.com
COVID-19 strategy: Here's how Philippines can combat the pandemic, according to a data scientist
Residents wearing facemasks walk past a roadblock with awarenesses signs after the government imposed an enhanced quarantine as a preventive measure against the COVID-19 novel coronavirus in Manila on March 25, 2020.
AFP / Ted Aljibe

MANILA, Philippines — Aside from implementing an enhanced community quarantine, the Philippines needs to include multiple strategies in its fight against the novel coronavirus disease (COVID-19).

Three weeks into the implementation of the enhanced community quarantine Luzon, the national government has yet to decide whether to lift or extend the lockdown.

Inter-Agency Task Force on the Management of Emerging Infectious Diseases (IATF-EID) spokesperson Cabinet Secretary Karlo Nograles earlier said science would be "in charge" on this matter.

The IATF has a technical working group, headed by the Department of Health, that will "finalize the parameters for deciding on the eventual total or partial lifting of the ECQ in Luzon, the possible extension of its duration, or its expansion to other areas outside the contained area, subject to the approval, amendment or modification by the IATF."

Metro Manila epidemic peak projected between April to June

Data scientists from the University of the Philippines project the virus to infect around 600,000 to 1.4 million individuals in the country, with 80% from Metro Manila.

In its report, the UP COVID-19 Pandemic Response Team emphasized the need for community collaboration to fight the deadly virus, which has infected nearly one million people across the globe.

"This estimate includes possible asymptomatic individuals and unreported cases. The high estimate for Metro Manila is mainly due to the high population size and density of the region," the UP report read.

This projection is based on a reproduction rate between 1.5 to 4, which is the average number of people that will be directly infected by a COVID-19 positive person in a susceptible population.

Based on mathematical simulations, the UP COVID-19 Pandemic Response Team predicted that the peak of the epidemic in Metro Manila will happen between April and June 2020.

As of April 2, the Philippines has detected 2,633 COVID-19 cases, 1,395 of which are in Metro Manila.

"As the government and the public implement interventions, the peak might shift to a later date and may also be flattened," the report read.

Noting that peaks in the provinces might be asynchronous or would not happen at the same time, the UP report pointed out that mobility in and out of provinces should be monitored and regulated to prevent an outbreak.

University of the Philippines COVID-19 Pandemic Response Team
University of the Philippines COVID-19 Pandemic Response Team
University of the Philippines COVID-19 Pandemic Response Team

Multiple strategies suggested in war vs COVID-19

Given these circumstances, the UP pandemic team suggested multiple strategies, in addition to the ECQ, in response to the coronavirus outbreak.

These measures include maintaining social distancing and avoiding mass gatherings; inreasing detection and isolation, including mild and asymptomatic cases, to reduce infections; and increasing protection and good personal hygiene to reduce transmission.

UP scientists also proposed to increase clean and safe space and to implement physical distance between random people. 

In hospitals, the report suggested to decrease the rate of patient encounter per health care worker, such as implementing a policy of maximum of three encounters per hour in a 12-hour work shift. Another proposal was to decrease the interaction time between the frontline health care worker and patients, with less than 40 minutes for the whole day.

The report also noted that providing protective gears and facilities to frontline health care workers during their shift is 95% effective.

Extending the community quarantine, in addition to multiple strategies mentioned above, are seen to further "shift the peak" of the epidemic to buy more time to prepare.

University of the Philippines COVID-19 Pandemic Response Team
University of the Philippines COVID-19 Pandemic Response Team
University of the Philippines COVID-19 Pandemic Response Team

Philippines needs to prepare for long-term

Data scientist Jomar Rabajante, professor at UP Los Baños Institute of Mathematical Sciences and Physics, said the war against COVID-19 is not just in a month but may extend until vaccine arrives, which is expected next year.

Thus, the country needs to be prepared not just during the lockdown period but for the long-term.

"So we need more community collaboration to fight COVID. It is imperative to include multiple strategies not just ECQ, as we need to consider other factors such as socio-economic status of our country," Rabajante told Philstar.com in an online exchange.

On the lifting of the ECQ, Rabajante said that if the government has solid strategies to move forward, the Philippines can do a modified community quarantine, which means that it would be local government unit-based and not national or Luzon-wide.

The UPLB professor also noted that before considering the lifting of the ECQ, LGUs must be equipped to implement protocols, such as regulated travel and quarantine of persons under monitoring and persons under investigation, to prevent initiation of outbreak.

The country should also have enough hospital beds, equipment, personnel and other healthcare support in case of a surge in the number of cases, he said.

"If the public is already prepared to change their 'epidemic-friendly' practices. That is, can we still maintain physical distancing in public (e.g. inside MRT)? Can we maintain or improve our personal hygiene habits? If not, then it is dangerous," Rabajante told Philstar.com.

He also noted that the country's hospitals should also have enough detection capability to identify those who are infected and isolate them immediately. 

While the Philippines has yet to acquire vaccine and COVID-19 drugs, the country should at least have a strategy to control transmission to vulnerable people, such as the elderly and those who have weak immune system.

"If the government can guarantee enough provision of economic resources for vulnerable communities then ECQ can be extended, or else we need modified [community quarantine] where socio-economic factors are considered," Rabajante said.

Mass testing to start April 14

On Thursday evening, Presidential Peace Adviser Carlito Galvez Jr., chief implementer of the national policy against COVID-19, announced that the government is planning to start mass testing of PUIs and PUMs starting April 14.

Earlier this week, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approved the use of five rapid test kits for the new coronavirus.

The FDA is also expected to issue a certificate of product registration to locally-made test kids on April 3. These test kits were developed by scientists from the University of the Philippines National Institutes of Health and the Philippine Genome Center, which will be manufactured by Manila HealthTek Inc. 

“The Manila HealthTek Inc. reported that the first batch of reagents has arrived which will enable them to start the manufacturing process to create additional kits that can accommodate 120,000 tests,” the DOST earlier said.

NOVEL CORONAVIRUS

UNIVERSITY OF THE PHILIPPINES

As It Happens
LATEST UPDATE: May 17, 2022 - 12:26pm

Follow this page for updates on a mysterious pneumonia outbreak that has struck dozens of people in China.

May 17, 2022 - 12:26pm

North Korean military medics ramped up the distribution of medicines to fight a growing coronavirus outbreak, state media said on Tuesday, with the number of reported cases of "fever" nearing 1.5 million.

Leader Kim Jong Un has ordered nationwide lockdowns to try and slow the spread of the disease through the unvaccinated population, and deployed the military after what he has called a botched response to the outbreak.

Hundreds of personnel in camouflage uniforms from the Korean People's Army medical units were seen rallying in the capital Pyongyang in photos released by the official Korean Central News Agency (KCNA).

The military "urgently deployed its powerful forces to all pharmacies in Pyongyang City and began to supply medicines under the 24-hour service system", KCNA said. — AFP

May 16, 2022 - 11:09am

Kim Jong Un slamms North Korea's pandemic response and ordered the army to help distribute medicine, state media said Monday, as the country said 50 people had died since first reporting an outbreak of Covid-19.

More than a million people have been sickened by what Pyongyang is referring to as "fever", state media said, despite leader Kim ordering nationwide lockdowns in a bid to slow the spread of disease through the unvaccinated population.

In a sign of how serious the situation may be, Kim "strongly criticised" healthcare officials for what he called a botched response to epidemic prevention — specifically a failure to keep pharmacies open 24/7 to distribute medicine. — AFP

May 15, 2022 - 9:28am

North Korea on Sunday reported 15 additional deaths from "fever" after the country recently announced its first-ever cases of Covid-19 and ordered nationwide lockdowns.

State media KCNA said a total of 42 people had died, with 820,620 cases and at least 324,550 under medical treatment.

Leader Kim Jong Un has said the outbreak has caused "great upheaval" in North Korea.

KCNA reported that "all provinces, cities and counties of the country have been totally locked down and working units, production units and residential units closed from each other."

Despite activating its "maximum emergency quarantine system" to slow the spread of disease through its unvaccinated population, North Korea is now reporting large numbers of new cases daily. -- AFP

May 14, 2022 - 1:41pm

North Korea announces 21 new "fever" deaths Saturday and says more than half a million people had been sickened nationwide, two days after confirming its first-ever cases of COVID-19.

Despite activating its "maximum emergency quarantine system" to slow the spread of disease through its unvaccinated population, North Korea is reporting tens of thousands of new cases daily.

On Friday alone, "over 174,440 persons had fever, at least 81 430 were fully recovered and 21 died in the country," the official Korean Central News Agency reported. — AFP

May 13, 2022 - 7:42am

North Korea on Friday announced its first Covid-19 death, saying that 187,000 people were being "isolated and treated" for fever as it confirmed the virus had spread nationwide.

"A fever whose cause couldn't be identified explosively spread nationwide from late April," the official Korean Central News Agency said.

"Six persons died (one of them tested positive for the BA.2 sub-variant of Omicron,)" it added.

The isolated nuclear-armed country confirmed its first-ever cases of Covid on Thursday, saying it was moving into "maximum emergency epidemic prevention system" after sick patients in the capital Pyongyang tested positive for Omicron.

"On May 12 alone, some 18,000 persons with fever occurred nationwide and as of now up to 187,800 people are being isolated and treated," KCNA said.

With its 25 million people not vaccinated against Covid, North Korea's crumbling health infrastructure would struggle to deal with a major outbreak, experts say. -- AFP

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