WHO, DOH AIR WARNING: POSSIBLE COVID-19 SURGE Cases may reach 500,000 by mid May; Duterte, orders facemask use til June 30

By ALFRED GABOT, Editor in Chief

MANILA – As the new corona virus cases continue to go down, the Department of Health warned that the country may see a resurgence of COVID-19 infections by middle of May following big political rallies and campaigns and almost normal activities of people where minimum public health standards are lax.

Active COVID-19 cases could reach up to 500,000 by May if Filipinos become more complacent and  ignore minimum public health standards, said Health Secretary Francisco Duque III said.

Duque said that aside from complacency in health protocols, a surge could likely happen with waning immunity, when people refuse to get vaccinated or get their booster shot, or when new subvariants enter the country.

The World Health Organization (WHO), already noting spikes in cases in some countries, supported the DOH warning.

The independent OCTA Research, meanwhile, allayed fears of increase in COVID cases, saying that at present “we’re not looking any increase in cases.”

But OCTA Research the situation “could change very quickly so that’s why we monitoring the numbers very closely and we advise the public to continue wearing masks and getting boosters and getting vaccines.”

“We are informing the public that if we continue not to observe MPHS, our updated projection shows active cases may reach 500,000 in the entire country,” Health Undersecretary Rosario Vergeire said in a press briefing.

The new projection was higher than the 300,000 cases anticipated last week, she said.

Secretary Duque earlier said  a gradual rise in COVID-19 cases in 14 areas under Alert Level 1 has been noted.

In a related development, Presidential Adviser for Entrepreneurship Joey Concepcion reminded Filipinos to get their booster shots in order not to waste the 27 million doses of coronavirus disease 2019 (Covid-19) vaccines that will expire this July.

During a Laging Handa briefing, Concepcion said the vaccines that are set to expire are worth P40 billion.

In a briefing for President Rodrigo Duterte, Duque said based on data from April 12 to 18, the National Capital Region recorded highest number of cases at 606, followed by Calabarzon (Region IV-A) with 226 cases and Central  Luzon (Region III) with 181 cases.

The three areas with the highest number of cases during the same period were Cavite with 101 cases, Manila with 92 cases and Quezon City with 82 cases.

 President Duterte echoed the DoH warning of another COVID-19 surge as he appealed anew for people to get vaccinated and ordered the use of facemask until the end of his term on June 30.

 WHO Acting Representative to the Philippines Dr. Rajendra Yadav said the possible surge of cases next in the middle of May may happen if minimum public health protocols are not observed.

In a public address, Duterte said although most Filipinos are already vaccinated and are somewhat safe from the original variant of COVID-19, the emerging new variants and recombinants may cause another surge in the country.

“There’s a distinct possibility that there will be another surge. Maybe not the COVID-19, the original. We’ve met the challenge with the vaccination,” he said.

The possible surge of Covid-19 cases in the middle of May, howsever, could be prevented through the administration of booster shots, said National Vaccination Operations Center chairperson Myrna Cabotaje.

Recent DOh data  showed the compliance rate with health protocols is at -7 percent nationwide and -12 percent in the National Capital Region (NCR).

The 50 percent decrease in the compliance rate may result in almost half a million active infections in the NCR.

DOH Undersecretary Vergeire later clarified that the possible surge in May is “a projection and not cast in stone”.

“Ibig sabihin, hindi natin alam kung ito ay mangyayari o kung ito ay hindi mangyayari. Ito ay ginagamit ng pamahalaan para ma-guide tayo sa pagpaplano, at pagprepara at mag-inform at maguide ang ating mga kababayan (We don’t know if this will happen or not. The government uses this as a guide in planning, preparation, and information of our fellowmen),” she said.

Vergeire added that a projection is based on the country’s current risk factors – crowding and mass gatherings due to upcoming national elections and partying during the holidays where wearing of masks was not observed.

The number of new Covid-19 cases continues to decline nationwide with an average daily case of 224 for the week of April 12 to 18, Vergeire said.

The recent average is 17 percent lower than last week’s 271, Health Undersecretary Maria Rosario Vergeire said in an online media forum.

The country’s total tally of new cases for the same week is 1,571, she said.

The intensive care unit utilization and total beds utilization nationwide remain at low risk.

As of April 17, the ICU utilization rate is 16 percent while the healthcare utilization rate is 17 percent.

The country has a total of 2,842 ICU beds – 450 are occupied while 2,392 are vacant.

The increase in Covid-19 cases in 14 areas under Alert Level 1 may be temporary upticks only, OCTA Research Group said.

“Sa ngayon, statistical, it looks like baka temporary increase lang or upticks but we have the right to change our analysis kapag makakita tayo ng additional data over the next week, pwede magbago yung pananaw naming,” said OCTA Research Group fellow Dr. Guido David.

 Duque noted that the regions with the most number of new infections are the National Capital Region (NCR) with 606 cases; Region 4-A with 226 cases; and Region 3 with 181 cases.

The top areas with new cases are Cavite with 101; Manila with 92; and Quezon City with 82.

 The Department of the Interior and Local Government (DILG), meanwhile, said there are no more reported granular lockdown areas in the country.

“Mr. President, from April 10 up to 16, for the first time there were no recorded granular lockdowns in the whole Philippines,” DILG Secretary Eduardo Año said during a Cabinet meeting.

Last week, Año said six areas were under granular lockdowns with authorities continuing to intensify the minimum public health standards (MPHS) to prevent the coronavirus disease 2019 (Covid-19) transmission.

In the same period, he noted a 15.69 percent decrease in the number of violators who are not wearing face mask violations. There was also a slight increase in the number of mass gathering infractions in the Alert Level 2 areas.

Año said physical distancing offenses dropped by 47.12 percent or 3,002 violations.

He said the country’s city, municipal and barangay front-liners immediately enforced appropriate measures to implement the house-to-house vaccination campaign to give Covid-19 shots to unvaccinated persons, specifically the senior citizens.

To date, 750 out of the 1,634 local government units (LGUs) have implemented the house-to-house vaccination campaign as ordered by the President last April 5.