WHO says Philippines doing ârelatively wellâ vs virus
WHO country representative Rabindra Abeyasinghe said the Philippine government’s quarantine measures have been instrumental in achieving gains in the fight against the pandemic.
AFP/Fabrice Coffrini
WHO says Philippines doing ‘relatively well’ vs virus
Christina Mendez (The Philippine Star) - July 1, 2020 - 12:00am

MANILA, Philippines — The World Health Organization (WHO) lauded yesterday the Philippines’ early decision to impose lockdowns to slow down the spread of the coronavirus disease 2019 or COVID-19.

WHO country representative Rabindra Abeyasinghe said the Philippine government’s quarantine measures have been instrumental in achieving gains in the fight against the pandemic.

Abeyasinghe, however, stressed the need for the country to beef up efforts in contact tracing to avoid the rapid spread of the virus, noting the increase in the number of cases in some areas in the Visayas.

The WHO official downplayed earlier reports that the Philippines is among the fastest in terms of COVID-19 infection rate in the Western Pacific Region.

“The Philippines has been doing relatively well,” Abeyangsinghe said, comparing the country’s response to other countries. “We are happy that the Philippines enforced early lockdowns, which actually helped prevent possibly hundreds of thousands of cases and thousands of deaths.”

Due to the calibrated lockdowns and increased healthcare response, Abeyangsinghe said, “What we are seeing now are increasing number of cases being reported because of increased testing capacity.”

He pointed out the need to further strengthen the government’s COVID-19 response, particularly in the National Capital Region, Cebu City as well as the “emerging hotspots” in Leyte and Samar.

‘WHO did not compare countries’

Abeyangsinghe said the WHO did not make assessment based on countries’ performance in the fight against COVID-19.

He explained that the WHO has a dashboard with the number of cases.

“What happened was a journalist used that dashboard and interpreted it that way,” he said, referring to reports that COVID-19 infection rate spread fastest in the Philippines among countries in the Western Pacific Region.

“It is unfair to say that WHO made that assessment. We did not,” Abeyasinghe said.

He said WHO provides COVID-19 data per country.

Data from the WHO Western Pacific Region showed that the Philippines has the most number of new cases from June 17 to 23.

WHO data showed that as of June 28, Indonesia recorded the highest number of infections with 52,812 followed by Singapore with 43,246. In the Philippines, there were 36,438 cases, 9,956 recoveries and 1,255 deaths as of June 29.

Presidential spokesman Harry Roque said the government has beaten the prediction of University of the Philippines researchers that cases of COVID-19 would hit 40,000 by the end of June.

“Wala na po, panalo na po tayo! (We won!) We beat the UP prediction. We beat it. Congratulations Philippines! Let’s do it again in July,” Roque said, setting another challenge for the government to keep the numbers low to disprove the experts’ projection that cases will reach 60,000 by end of July.

Roque said the Philippines is “winning the war” against COVID-19 despite the increasing number of infections in the past months.

Former solicitor general Florin Hilbay slammed Roque for his statement.

“The enemy is COVID-19, not UP. The enemy is COVID-19, not ABS-CBN. The enemy is COVID-19, not jeepney drivers. The enemy is COVID-19, not critics. The enemy is COVID-19, not online sellers,” Hilbay said in a post on Twitter.

The Department of Health yesterday acknowledged the observations of Abeyasinghe about the poor implementation of COVID-19 response in some localities.

Health Undersecretary Maria Rosario Vergeire said some local government units are lacking in contact tracing efforts.

She admitted that there are gaps in contact tracing that could be a contributor in the transmission of the virus.

60,000 cases by July 31

Unless significant strategies are put in place by the government, experts from different academic institutions said the number of COVID-19 cases in the country might reach 60,000 by the end of July.

The COVID-19 forecast report released by OCTA Research, published on the UP website on Monday, projected at least 60,000 cases and 1,300 deaths by July 31 based on the current transmission rate of the virus.

The report recommended a review of national strategy to combat COVID-19, noting a significant increase in transmissions, particularly in Cebu that has seen a surge in the number of cases in recent weeks.

“The projection in Cebu province, assuming a continued implementation of enhanced community quarantine, is 15,000 cases by July 31,” read the report. “Relaxing the quarantine measures may cause an escalation of 20,000 to 30,000 cases.”

Cases in Metro Manila may rise to 27,000 by the end of the month, the report said, noting lags and uncategorized cases from the DOH.

The experts also classified Rizal and Leyte as high-risk areas based on recent data from the DOH.

The forecast report was written by UP mathematics professor Guido David, UP political science professor Ranjit Singh Rye, University of Santo Tomas vising professor of biology Nicanor Austriaco and OCTA research associate Ma. Patricia Agbulos, with contributions from experts in different fields.

It was the same team that projected the number of cases to reach 24,000 by June 15 and 40,000 by June 30.

Roque declared “victory” after the number of COVID-19 cases in the country did not reach the UP forecast, noting there are only 36,438 cases as of June 29.

However, the latest forecast report noted that there are already 41,275 cases based on test reports as of June 24, but thousands of them have yet to be reflected in the official DOH data as these have yet to be validated.

“We urge the DOH to resolve issues regarding the accuracy and timeliness of its data on COVID-19 cases in the country. To date, there are a significant backlog of around 5,000 cases and 2,794 uncategorized cases,” the researchers said. Sheila Crisostomo, Janvic Mateo, Helen Flores

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