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The number of COVID-19 cases in the country could breach the 40,000 mark by the end of June if the government doesn’t ramp up its strategies to address the pandemic, researchers from the University of the Philippines (UP) said.

In its latest COVID-19 forecast report dated June 11, UP experts said the curve has not yet flattened as the reproduction number (R0– pronounced as “r naught”) or the number of cases that an infected person might cause is measured at 1.2. A reproduction number higher than one means the infection is spreading at a fast pace.

Using mathematical models and assuming the status quo remains, the UP experts said the COVID-19 cases in Metro Manila could reach between 16,500 and 20,500 by the end of June. Around 1,200 deaths could be recorded in the capital.

Cebu, which the researchers consider a high-risk area, is seen to log 11,000 COVID-19 cases with 90 deaths by June 30 if current trends continue.

The UP experts said the surge in COVID-19 cases in Metro Manila could be due to rapid transmission caused by asymptomatic persons. The Department of Health’s estimate that only 5.5 percent of active cases in the country are asymptomatic “is likely an underestimate,” they added.

“The trend in Covid-19 infections worldwide is that the proportion of asymptomatic is increasing and needs to be accounted for. There is a possibility that asymptomatic transmission is more rapid,” the researchers said.

Metro Manila accounts for 60 percent of COVID-19 cases in the country.

While the experts said the high reproduction number of COVID-19 in the country isn’t a cause for panic, they said the government must step up COVID-19 testing and tracing to prevent a second wave of infections from happening.

Implementation of health protocols like wearing of masks and observing social distancing should also continue.

“Without continued vigilance on the part of the government, private sector, civil society, and citizens, the continued relaxation of restrictions in the NCR and in Cebu may lead to the pandemic getting out of control. If both national and local governments fail to provide a prompt and adequate response, all the societal and financial sacrifices of society could be wasted, and we will likely experience another wave,” the experts warned.

The researchers also urged the DOH to “urgently resolve” issues surrounding the accuracy and timeliness of its COVID-19 cases as there remains a significant backlog of cases in its database.

They warned that failure to address the backlog will undermine the government’s efforts to monitor the spread of the virus and implement strategies to address the pandemic.

The experts said local government units must be given more resources to address the pandemic as they are vital to the national government’s implementation of its COVID-19 strategy.

“[A] greater share of the stimulus package and in the national budget must be allocated for LGUs to enable them to implement the national strategy to fight Covid-19 and realize their goal of creating ‘safe communities’ around the country,” they said.

UP’s research was conducted by a nine-man team of experts led by math professor Dr. Guido David, political science professor Ranjit Rye and associate Patricia Agbulos.

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