THE Department of Health (DOH) yesterday blamed the public’s non-compliance with minimum health standards for the surge in coronavirus disease (COVID-19) cases in Metro Manila and other urban provinces.
Health Undersecretary Maria Rosario Vergeire, in a virtual press briefing, said the public has become complacent, with majority no longer wearing their face masks and shields properly and not practicing physical distancing when they are in public places.
“The underlying cause of why cases are increasing is because of the non-compliance to health protocols that we have. As long as our public would not be able to comply with the minimum health protocols that are in place, the possibility is really there for cases to increase,” Vergeire said.
Vergeire said the spike in cases should not be attributed to the entry of the UK and South African virus variants in the country, a direct rebuff of the statement of the independent OCTA Research Team that the recent climb in new cases were driven by the new variants.
“We don’t like it that people are being frightened that just because the new variants are here, the cases immediately surged. Whatever increase in the number of cases we are having right now, it cannot be attributed solely to the variants,” she said.
Vergeire issued the statement amid the recent spike in cases in the country, with daily cases breaking the 3,000 mark in the past three days.
OCTA has projected that the country could see 5,000 to 6,000 new COVID-19 cases a day by the end of March if the current trend continues.
Cabinet Secretary and IATF co-chairman Karlo Nograles, in an interview with ABS CBN News Channel, and presidential spokesman and IATF spokesman Harry Roque, in a briefing in Malacañang, dismissed the idea of implementing an enhanced community quarantine (ECQ) or a modified enhanced community quarantine (MECQ) this month especially in Metro Manila where a doubling of COVID cases has been recorded in the past days.
Nograles said LGUs can impose granular lockdown on smaller quarantine areas such on buildings, streets, barangays if cases are detected especially now that many of the cases detected were found to affect whole families instead of individuals.
“We are seeing more increases in infections… home infections, family infections. Once we detect that some are positive, there should be isolation. Isolation is the key here to avoid community transmission and we need granular lockdowns and LGUs should be quick to implement granular lockdowns,” he said.
National Task Force Against COVID-19 (NTF) deputy implementer Vince Dizon, in an interview with radio DzBB, said the rise in cases is alarming and the IATF is reviewing its current data now along with the assessment on the implementation of certain protocols to determine if they contributed to the spike as well as to identify what caused the hike.
Nograles said there are many variables that may have contributed to the rise in cases especially in Metro Manila such as the presence of the new variants of COVID-19 and the public’s relaxing of compliance with the minimum protocols.
He reiterated the need to continue to comply with the minimum health standard such as the washing of hands, wearing of face mask and face shields and observing social distancing.
Roque echoed Nograles’ pronouncement reminding LGUs that they are authorized to implement lockdowns.
Roque said imposing an ECQ or MECQ is out of the question because the health care capacity system of the country is still able to handle the number of infections and treatment needed.
Vergeire said the healthcare capacity in the country remains stable. “We are not denying that cases are increasing as even hospital directors and medical center chiefs are saying cases are growing. But to say that the system is overwhelmed, it is not.”
Vergeire said the average hospital bed occupancy for COVID-19 is at about 50 percent only.
Dr. Butch Ong, of the Octa Research Group warned that the health care capacity system, despite its good standing now, might eventually be overwhelmed if the number of cases continued to rise especially due to the presence of the UK and South African variants which are affecting more families, including children, instead of individuals.
Meanwhile, Philippine General Hospital chief Gerardo “Gap” Legaspi yesterday said the hospital has temporarily stopped accepting patients in its outpatient department, unless the cases are limb and life threatening and under extreme emergency, because most of its beds are allotted for COVID-19 patients.
Legaspi said that in the past months, non-COVID patients have been outnumbering COVID-19 patients, which have unnecessarily limited the ICU, ward and isolation beds allocation for those infected with the coronavirus.
He said with the recent surge in cases, PGH is now increasing its bed capacity back to the level when the pandemic was at its peak.
He advised non-COVID patients to consider other hospitals instead of coming to the UP-PGH.
The DOH has sought the assistance of the World Health Organization (WHO) in analyzing data on whether there is already a community transmission of the new variants in the country.
“We asked for the help of the WHO. We had a meeting with them last Friday for them to help us further analyze our present situation,” Vergeire said, adding the DOH wants the analysis to be completed before they make an official declaration on the status of the UK and South African variants in the Philippines.
The DOH has so far recorded 118 cases of the UK variant, and 58 cases of the South African variant.
Meanwhile, senators yesterday expressed alarm over the sudden spike of COVID-19 cases in the country.
“Stricter implementation of health protocols. We have become too complacent,” said Senate President Vicente Sotto III.
Senate president pro-tempore Ralph Recto said the people should just remain at home, if possible, to stop the increasing number of cases.
“Observe all health protocols strictly. Social distance, wearing of mask and face shield when in public, wash your hands. If not important don’t leave home regardless of quarantine status,” Recto said.
Sen. Panfilo Lacson said that aside from the strict observance of health protocols, contact tracing must be enhanced to minimize, of not totally eliminate, the spread of the virus.
“Contact tracing is key – first to determine the specific areas where the surges occur or are evident so that extra control measures and closer supervision can be instituted immediately. This is where the role of the LGUs becomes indispensable since they are the closest to the potential spreaders, not to mention familiarity with the people in their localities,” Lacson said.
Sen. Juan Edgardo Angara said the national government must launch a massive information campaign on the new variants so people will be more aware of the consequences.
“It is very alarming and we need to take extra precautions once more; many have let their guard down and we have to go back to observing social distancing as these new variants are reportedly more infectious and require less contact time than previous variants for one to contract the new variant. There should be an information campaign on these new variants and the importance of staying and being (even more) careful,” Angara said. – With Jocelyn Montemayor and Raymond Africa