Epidemiologist warns of ‘3rd wave’ of infections
MANILA, Philippines — A third wave of infections can be expected after the government lifts the lockdown it has imposed on major urban areas to halt the spread of the new coronavirus in the country, an epidemiologist advising the Inter-Agency Task Force on Emerging Infectious Diseases said on Wednesday.
Dr. John Wong, founder of health research institution Epimetrics Inc. and a member of the task force’s subtechnical working group on data analytics, said the first wave of infections came in January when the Philippines recorded imported coronavirus cases involving Chinese tourists.
The second wave is the current spread of the virus that has sickened more than 10,000 Filipinos. Wong said on Tuesday that infections had slowed nearly two months after President Duterte imposed the lockdown.
Extended twice since mid-April, the lockdown ends on May 15, to be followed by a phased easing of restrictions to prevent a resurgence of the virus that Wong called the third wave.
“To prevent that third wave, we have to observe all the mitigation measures, like physical distancing, hand hygiene, frequent cleaning,” Wong said.
“We can’t say that we’ve won the battle until we have a vaccine. But at least for now, we’ve been able to control the outbreak and buy time for the health system to increase its capacity,” he said.
As the national and the local governments prepared to oversee how life would go after the lockdown, Health Undersecretary Maria Rosario Vergeire called on the people to cooperate as the virus continued to threaten the country.
“[T]he threat to our health remains. We may be better prepared, but without a cure, vaccine, or if we do not follow our health protocols, we could go back to where we started,” Vergeire said in her online press briefing.
“We are confident that we can implement a response to another outbreak that is safe and effective. Let us be mindful of each other. The way we choose to behave out in public in the coming weeks could save lives,” she said.
On Wednesday, the Department of Health (DOH) reported 320 more infections, pushing the total number of COVID-19 cases to 10,004. It was the biggest single-day increase in cases in a month.
The last time the DOH reported a spike in cases was April 6, when 414 cases were added to the tally. New cases have since averaged at 211 a day.
Vergeire, however, did not explain the spike in new cases, just saying that more than half of them, or 179, were recorded in Metro Manila.
The DOH also reported the recovery of 98 more patients, bringing the total number of COVID-19 survivors to 1,506. But the death toll increased to 658 after 21 more patients died.
Health-care workers account for one of five infections, as the number of medical front-liners testing positive for SARS-CoV-2, the new coronavirus that causes COVID-19, has reached 1,859. Of this total, 380 have recovered while 34 have died.
Apart from increasing the country’s testing capacity, Vergeire said there was also a need to ramp up the government’s ability to isolate cases. For this, she said the government had drawn up a “long-term plan” under which local governments would have at least one temporary treatment and monitoring center that would be equipped with one isolation bed per 2,500 population.
Currently, the local governments’ quarantines have a combined capacity of 36,546 patients, while national government quarantines can handle 1,348.
Calls for mass testing to suppress the spread of the coronavirus continued Wednesday with the chief physician of the Bureau of Corrections recommending rapid testing of inmates in the Correctional Institution for Women and New Bilibid Prison.
Dr. Henry Fabro, director of health services of the bureau and head of the Bilibid hospital, said mass rapid testing would help health authorities find and isolate prisoners infected with the virus.
—WITH A REPORT FROM DEXTER CABALZA
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