THE Department of Health yesterday took exceptions to the claim of Interior and Local Government Secretary Eduardo Año that Cebu City is now the epicenter of the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) in the Philippines, saying the “title” has not been wrested from Metro Manila.
Last Monday, Año said Cebu City is “more likely” the new epicenter of the contagion in the country, basing his conclusion on the recent rate of COVID-19 infections in Cebu City.
The DOH said the National Capital Region has 18,384 cases as of June 29 while Cebu City has 4,639. Over the last 14 days, Metro Manila has recorded 3,684 cases while Cebu City has 987 cases.
While who “owns” the title is still being debated, the DOH reported 1,080 new cases Tuesday, the second highest number of cases reported in a day, after the 1,150 reported last June 23. This brings the total number of cases in the Philippines to 37,514.
The DOH said that 858 are “fresh cases” while 222 are “late cases.”
Eleven more patients succumbed to the deadly virus, bringing to 1,266 the total number of COVID-19 deaths in the Philippines, while 277 more patients recovered for a total of 10,233 patients who have survived the illness.
In a virtual press briefing, DOH Undersecretary Maria Rosario Vergeire said: “A lot of our experts are saying NCR is still the epicenter, although we are seeing hotspots in other areas of the country.
“For now, it is still NCR, and Cebu is just one of the hotspots or areas of specific focus for the DOH,” she added. “Even though (cases in) Cebu City is on the rise, as we can see, the numbers are continuously (high) in the NCR.”
The World Health Organization warned that the uptick of COVID-19 transmission in small pockets of areas in Metro Manila and the Visayas needs to be watched closely as most of those newly infected belong to the younger, more active segment of the population.
WHO Representative to the Philippines Rabindra Abeyasinghe said the Philippines “has been doing relatively well in comparison to many of the most affected countries” due to the enhanced quarantine in many parts of the country.
He said the early enforcement of a lockdown may have prevented a wider infection and many more deaths but there is now a new cause for concern because of the behavior of the public coming out of quarantine.
Abeyasinghe cautioned that the increase in the number of new cases may be due to the increased testing capacity which he described as “not actually a bad thing” as it indicates a better system of detecting new transmission in the population.
He noted that the lockdown bought the government the time needed to expand its capacity for testing cases as well as the capacity of hospitals and quarantine centers to handle the number of those who were infected.
“What is a little bit concerning is that we are seeing some areas or localities where there is evidence of increasing transmission rates where the test positivity rate is going much higher than the national average. This is worrying,” the WHO official said.
He identified these areas as portions of the National Capital Region and Cebu City ad well as “emerging hotspots” in Region 8, specifically the provinces of Leyte and Samar.
He rejected suggestions that Metro Manila should revert back to a higher level of quarantine, pointing out that such a move will adversely impact the national economy even more.
“We don’t believe that the situation in Metro Manila requires a reversal. We recognize the impact of this pandemic not only on health but also on the economy,” he said.
Senate President Vicente Sotto III expressed his disappointment with how Filipinos observe health protocols amid the general community quarantine status.
“I think there’s something wrong with our attitude, there’s something wrong with the character being seen among us, with our countrymen, we ourselves. People think that the problem is over. They now tend to get on the streets, that’s why the number of infections continue to rise. There are those who engage in drinking spree, there are those who go to bars. They continue to go out of their homes with total disregard for quarantine protocols,” Sotto said in a virtual interview with reporters.
He said the IATF should not recommend easing community quarantine measures in some areas where people are stubborn and continue to defy orders for them to stay home unless buying essentials.
He said he recommend that Metro Manila be reverted to ECQ since people’s jobs will be affected anew. – With Peter Tabingo and Raymond Africa