MANILA, Philippines — Despite the recent spikes in COVID-19 infections, the Philippines cannot afford another wide-reaching lockdown because many people are experiencing hunger but safety measures should be strictly followed to prevent the overwhelming of the country's health system, Malacañang said Monday.
More than 3,000 new infections have been reported daily since March 5, a development that some experts have linked to the new and more infectious COVID-19 variants that were first detected in the United Kingdom and in South Africa.
The Department of Health said Monday, however, that disregarding safety measures like physical distancing is a more likely cause of the increase in cases.
The OCTA Research Group recently predicted that the Philippines may record 5,000 to 6,000 new COVID-19 infections a day by the end of March because of the rapid spread of the new variants.
Presidential spokesman Harry Roque, however, said there is no need to panic yet because the Philippines still has enough healthcare facilities for people who would catch the virus. He said 60% of intensive care unit (ICU) beds, 65% of isolation beds, 75% of ward beds, and 77% of ventilators remain available.
"Do we need to panic? No. Why? Because we imposed a lockdown to improve our capability to treat the serious cases. We improved our health care capacity. That means, while there are new variants that are more transmissible, the trend did not change, that most of the cases are mild and asymptomatic," Roque said at a press briefing.
"What is important we have the capability to care for those with serious conditions, whether be it sa ICU beds, isolation beds or ward beds," he added.
Tighter restrictions not yet needed
Roque said tightening the quarantine status to modified enhanced community quarantine (MECQ), where most businesses cannot operate, or the strictest enhanced community quarantine (ECQ), where only essential sectors like health and food can operate, is not necessary this month.
"For the month of March, I don’t think it is called for. Why? Because the data serve as our basis. Even if the number of cases increases, we are ready to treat those with serious conditions, which is about two to three percent of the cases," the Palace spokesman said.
"Dahil sa totoo lang po, hindi na po natin kaya na mag-lockdown ng ating ekonomiya. Napakadami na pong nagugutom (To be honest, we cannot afford a lockdown of the economy. Many are getting hungry)," he added.
Roque said the public should continue to follow minimum health standards like frequent handwashing, physical distancing, and wearing of face masks and face shields. Local governments should also implement isolation measures for the sick and strengthen contact tracing and testing efforts, he added.
"I think we can beat COVID-19 even if not all of us have been vaccinated. Let's just comply with our known weapons against COVID-19 – masks, hand-washing, distancing, and vaccine," Roque said.
"My appeal is let us not get tired (of following the health protocols) because the vaccine is here, the start of the end of our problem," he added.
Former Health Secretary Manuel Dayrit agreed that there is no need to impose lockdowns for now, saying the surge in infections may have been caused by a drop in compliance, which can be fixed.
"We want to open-up the economy. And therefore, if you want to do an ECQ, we have to check its impact…As far as an immediate ECQ – I don’t want to say we should do it… because it's drastic and we know it has an economic impact . So, we shouldn’t just say close everything again," Dayrit said.
At the same press briefing, Gerardo Legaspi, medical director of the University of the Philippines-Philippine General Hospital (UP-PGH), denied that the state-run hospital is being overwhelmed by COVID-19 cases. Legaspi said the number of COVID-19 patients that have to be admitted to the ICU has become lower.
"So, it’s not true that we are being overrun by COVID patients. We were overran by non-COVID patients last month so we are adjusting again," Legaspi said.
"We are not really overwhelmed, we just need to reshuffle beds and bring back our capacity to accept COVID patients," he added.
Legaspi said PGH is still accepting non-COVID patients but the hospital has issued an advisory stating that while it is looking for beds for COVID-19 patients, it would only admit limb and life-threatening conditions, those who figured in accidents and traumas, and those who are about to give birth.
"That is our appeal to the public. For those who do not belong to the categories I mentioned, if possible, they should be brought to other local hospitals. Just for now, we are preparing beds for COVID patients," Legaspi said.
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