There may be millions of undetected COVID-19 cases in the Philippines, Ateneo paper says
An international airline ground staff wearing protective gear works at the airport in Manila on August 4, 2020.
AFP/Ted Aljibe

There may be millions of undetected COVID-19 cases in the Philippines, Ateneo paper says

Gaea Katreena Cabico (Philstar.com) - August 19, 2020 - 6:01pm

MANILA, Philippines — Nearly three million Filipinos or 2.6% of the country’s population may have contracted coronavirus disease during the second quarter, a preliminary copy of a study from the Ateneo De Manila University suggested.

A working paper authored by Jan Fredrick Cruz and released by the university's Department of Economics projects that 2.81 million may have been infected with COVID-19 from April to June but only 34,354 or 1.22% of the estimated cases were reported for that period.

Confirmed COVID-19 cases in the country reached 173,774 on Wednesday, August 19.

Cruz arrived at the estimates by multiplying the number of reported cases with the ratio obtained by dividing a country’s case fatality rate against that of Singapore, which has the lowest CFR among the ASEAN-5 member states. Aside from Singapore, the Philippines, Thailand, Indonesia and Malaysia comprise ASEAN-5.

The author’s analysis suggested that roughly 98% of COVID-19 cases in the country have gone undetected in the second quarter.

“The study at hand discloses that 49 out of every 50 COVID-19-positive persons in the Philippines have gone undetected during the second quarter of this year. A comparison of estimated disease prevalence as percentage of national population across the ASEAN-5 similarly indicates that the Philippines has the severest degree of underreported infections in the group,” the paper read.

Cruz also computed that Indonesia may have had 6.578 million cases but only 53,678 cases were reported; Thailand may have had 89,357 cases but only detected 1,520; and Malaysia may have had 158,237 cases but only 6,011 were reported.

While Indonesia may have more estimated virus infections due to its bigger population, the author said that discounting population size “highlights the Philippines as the worst performer among the ASEAN-5 in controlling the spread of COVID-19” despite imposing the world’s longest lockdown.

The country has been under lockdown since mid-March when cases began piling up. Areas in the Philippines are now under varying levels of community quarantine.

Mass testing

“Many Filipinos are plausibly unaware that they have COVID-19 and are likely exposing their household, immediate community and workplace to risk of infection. The same set of Filipinos is not receiving the proper treatment because of the absence of diagnosis,” the report read.

The author stressed that mere extension of community quarantines without complementary mass testing is “impractical” as positive individuals will simply revive viral transmission once movement restrictions are lifted.

Latest figures from the Department of Health showed a total of 1,992,128 people have been tested for coronavirus in the country. 

“In sum, the inevitable policy direction for the Philippines is to aggressively implement the WHO recommendation of ‘test, trace, and isolate’ to avoid long-term health and economic distress,” the report read.

As a disclaimer, the paper clarified it is a “preliminary version” of a research paper and has not been published in a journal or vetted through a peer-review process. It said the purpose of circulation was to draw comments and suggestions.

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