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UP experts predict 60,000 virus cases by July 31

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COVID-19 infections in the country are seen to reach 60,000, including 1,300 deaths, by July 31, according to a recent projection by a group of researchers at the University of the Philippines.

The UP OCTA Research said cases in Metro Manila may top 27,000 and Cebu province 15,000.

The group came up with the estimates based on the R naught, or the infectivity rate of the virus. This represents the number of people who may be infected by a confirmed case. Ideally, this should be one or less, as anything higher means significant community transmission.

In a study covering March 1 to June 25, the researchers said the virus reproduction rate is at 1.28.

“This indicates that the pandemic is not yet on the downward trend. Moreover, the community spread is uneven throughout the archipelago,” the latest UP OCTA Research report read.

The study said the number of cases increases by 50% when restrictions are relaxed. The average number of fresh cases daily in Metro Manila rose from 271 during the enhanced community quarantine (ECQ) to 396 under the modified ECQ, and 583 under the general community quarantine.

The government attributed the increase to higher testing capacity and the surge of infection in Cebu.

“So 'yung 60,000 is actually on the lower end of our projections. The lower value of R naught, there yung projection namin will be around 65,000 actually,” UP OCTA Fellow professor Guido David told CNN Philippines in a phone interview.

“The main thing is the pandemic is not yet contained… it’s still continuously increasing. The drivers are still mobility, proximity, and hopefully, people will be more responsible about their personal hygiene,” he said.

Cebu projections

Cebu province has the highest transmission rate in the country. The R naught as of June 25 is 1.8.

UP OCTA Research said the number of COVID-19 cases in the province nearly doubled in 17 days, from 3,400 on June 8, to 6,400 by June 25. But the reproduction rate of the virus slowed down after authories placed Cebu under ECQ.

“Mainly they reverted to ECQ in Cebu — that was able to prevent the spread of the virus. Instead of 11,000 (as projected), we have 8,000 more or less,” David said.

The researchers said Cebu province is expected to have 15,000 cases by July with the ECQ in place, but this may increase to 20,000 to 30,000 if retrictions are relaxed.

NCR projections

As of June 25, 822 or 4.9% of the 16,727 infected in the National Capital Region (NCR) succumbed to the virus. Researchers said the high case fatality rate “suggests a high number of undetected, asymptomatic cases in NCR”. The reproduction rate of the virus rose from 1.15 under MECQ to 1.28 under GCQ from June 1 to 25.

The study said NCR remains a high-risk area for COVID-19.

“Using the same reproduction number, this projects to almost 30,000 cases with 860 deaths in NCR by July 31, with a lower estimate of 27,000 cases if transmission decreases,” David said.

Gov’t urged to reexamine, recalibrate COVID-19 measures

UP OCTA researchers said the government needs to reexamine and recalibrate its strategies in fighting the pandemic.

“In our view, the aforementioned national and local projections represent a significant increase in transmissions and is a serious cause for concern that needs to be examined and given appropriate and immediate response by the government,” the report read.

It cited the need for “clear targets to measure if strategies are working, such as keeping the positivity rates (below seven percent) and active cases trending down” and an urgent need to scale up health care system capacity.

Citing a Harvard University study, researchers said there should be at least 20,000 tests per day nationwide, and 10,000 in Metro Manila alone.

Infectious diseases expert supports UP researchers’ projections

In an interview with CNN Philippines’ Rico Hizon, infectious diseases expert Dr. Benjamin Co echoed the findings of the UP researchers that COVID-19 cases in the country will most likely reach 60,000 by end of July.

Co explained the country had an average of 770 cases per day last week.

“If you compute the 770 and we’re not going anywhere, that means that’s around 20,000 cases additional on top of the over 30,000 cases that we have now,” said Co.

Co noted that only 49 out the 63 accredited COVID-19 testing laboratories in the country are regularly reporting their performed tests based on the Department of Health’s website.

The expert added there is an increasing positivity rate in the number of COVID-19 cases in the country for the past three days, noting a “slightly increasing” trend in the virus infections.

“If we don’t follow government regulations, nothing is going to happen at all. But we cannot provide punitive actions on people so what we need to do is to change the paradigm and make the people work with us,” emphasized Co.

Co reiterated his suggestion that every town in the country must have its own COVID-19 isolation and testing facilities before lifting lockdown measures.

“The problem is COVID-19 testing and isolation facilities are concentrated on areas like Metro Manila. We have gazillions of testing facilities here,” he said.

Co mentioned Vicente Sotto Memorial Medical Center in Cebu City, which he said has been performing more COVID-19 tests in April than today.

“There are three testing facilities in Cebu but unfortunately, one of them is not functioning. I think that is the reason why we are getting lower numbers out of Cebu,” said Co.

To date, the country now has 36,438 confirmed COVID-19 cases along with 1,255 deaths and 9,956 recoveries.

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