Gov’t says virus spread slowed a month after Luzon lockdown
MANILA, Philippines — The spread of the new coronavirus in the Philippines has slowed a month after the Luzon lockdown, the government reported on Tuesday amid calls for the easing of restrictions and phased business reopenings to restart the country’s battered economy.
The Inter-Agency Task Force on Emerging Infectious Diseases made the preliminary assessment based on the slower case doubling time observed in the past few weeks.
Case doubling time is the period it takes for coronavirus cases, hospitalizations or deaths to double. It means that the shorter the time frame, the steeper the curve gets and cases increase faster.
Lower than 3 days
“Now we have a case doubling time lower than three days. It means that the case doubling of COVID-19 here in the Philippines is slower. That is more accurate now than before because we are conducting more tests,” said Cabinet Secretary Karlo Nograles, spokesperson for the task force.
“The findings, if plotted on a graph, is that the case doubling time of the Philippines has slowed down. It’s less than three days. The positivity rate is also slowly decreasing and the percentage of new cases is bending downward,” Nograles said.
“The question is, are we over the hump? Have we slowed down? The President said we have slowed down. The basis for that is the numbers presented by scientists at [task force] meetings,” he said.
On Tuesday, the Department of Health (DOH) reported 20 more deaths linked to the new coronavirus and 291 more cases.
The new cases brought the nationwide total to 5,223, the highest in Southeast Asia, and the deaths raised the toll to 335. But a spike in the number of recoveries saw 53 patients weathering the disease, bringing the total number of survivors to 295.
Finance Secretary Carlos Dominguez III said at a task force meeting on Monday night that he had met with World Bank officials who noted that the travel bans and the lockdown imposed by President Rodrigo Duterte on Luzon helped to slow coronavirus infections.
“They said that your decisiveness in, first, reducing the number of people coming into the Philippines in February and then in March followed up by the lockdown probably has saved 100,000 lives in the Philippines,” Dominguez said.
Nograles said the Luzon lockdown helped to delay the peak of the coronavirus epidemic in the country, and that figures based on models showed that 1.9 million to 6.2 million Filipinos might be infected without any restrictions or countermeasures.
“That is the worst-case scenario presented to us by experts, epidemiologists, mathematicians, scientists,” he said. “That is what we are trying to avoid. That is their estimate, not ours,” he added.
Mr. Duterte placed the entire island of Luzon on lockdown in mid-March to halt the spread of SARS-CoV-2, the new coronavirus that causes COVID-19. Schools, shopping malls and most businesses were closed and public transport was suspended. Only essential businesses were allowed to operate, including supermarkets, wet markets and drugstores.
Luzon is home to half of the country’s population of 107 million and economic activities on the island contribute to more than 80 percent of the country’s gross domestic product.
The closures have crippled the economy and with the extension of the originally monthlong lockdown by another two weeks, the government’s economic managers have begun talking about contraction. Businessmen have called for a gradual easing of the restrictions after April 30, when the lockdown ends, to allow the most essential businesses and their supply chains to resume operations and bring the economy back to life.
But the President is wary of subsequent waves of infections if the lockdown is lifted.
“The pandemic does not end with those undergoing treatment at the hospital. That’s just the first wave. There’s a second wave, those that recently got infected or just nursing a cold. There’s also a third wave but smaller. That’s how epidemics are,” Mr. Duterte said in a televised address early on Tuesday.
He said he would lift the lockdown if pharmaceutical companies develop antibodies that could defeat the new coronavirus.
The President spoke about antibodies following reports that hospitals in Manila had introduced plasma therapy in treating their COVID-19 patients and were appealing to people who had recovered from the illness to donate blood for use by patients struggling with the disease.
“If it’s available and I see people using it, I will lift it. Besides, should you get sick we can now buy antibodies for it. If you can’t buy it, that’s your problem because I will already lift the quarantine,” Mr. Duterte said.
Western pharmaceutical companies have scrambled to develop a vaccine or test existing drugs that could be used to fight the new coronavirus.
Mr. Duterte lamented that the Philippines could be the last to get a cure for COVID-19.
“The problem is we are on the last ladder. The rich nations are in a race to acquire it, because they need lots of it. So as fast as they can really manufacture or farm out the product, just retain the copyright so they can help each other out,” he said.
“We might not have the supply and also my fear it the antibody is available, of course the rich nations will get it first before we can,” he added.
But the Philippines has a chance of getting the cure if it comes out of China, said Mr. Duterte, who has built good relations with Beijing.
“If it’s from China, you won’t have any problem. I think we can have the priority anytime,” he said. —WITH A REPORT FROM JOVIC YEE
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