Philippines now on 'second wave' of COVID-19 cases – Health chief

enablePagination: false
maxItemsPerPage: 10
maxPaginationLinks: 10

The country is now experiencing its "second wave" or surge of COVID-19 cases, Health Secretary Francisco Duque told the Senate on Wednesday. (FILE PHOTO)

Metro Manila (CNN Philippines, May 20) — The country is already in the middle of its "second wave" or another surge of COVID-19 cases, Health Secretary Francisco Duque said, but it has also begun controlling the rise in numbers.

"Actually nasa second wave na tayo," said Duque in a Senate hearing held online.

[Translation: Actually we are now on the second wave.]

The secretary said he cited findings of epidemiologist Dr. John Wong and other experts.

Wong in a later briefing explained that a wave means a rise and fall in cases, adding that the country's first three cases recorded in January were considered the first wave while the second wave began in March.

"There was a very small wave last few days of January, and then there was a lull, and then we had our second wave, which is the first major wave, which is more than 10,000 cases," he said in an online briefing with the DOH. "We are now in the trough of the lower part of the second wave."

However, Duque also reported that the country has already flattened its curve due to fewer cases reported daily.

"Bumaba 'yung kaso at nagstabilize 'yung new cases," said the secretary.

[Translation: The number of cases has dropped and the number of new cases has stabilized.]

Wong expounded that flattening the curve means preventing the number of cases from exceeding the capacity of hospitals. He said the numbers peaked with 538 new COVID-19 cases per day, but recently, the daily count has dropped to 220, due to the enhanced community quarantine.

"When we say 'flatten the curve,' we flatten in relation of health system capacity, measured in terms of hospital beds, ICU beds, ventilators," said Wong.

The COVID-19 national tally broke the 13,000 mark on Wednesday with a death toll of 842 and recoveries reaching 2,932.

Do we have enough data?

However, senators were skeptical given that the government still has not met its target testing capacity of 30,000 per day.

"Can you please explain to us how can we say that we already flattened the curve when we have not tested enough?" raised Senator Kiko Pangilinan during the hearing.

Senator Risa Hontiveros also expressed concern over the health chief's pronouncement.

"Mahirap sabihin na (It is difficult to say) we have flattened the curve without real and reliable data... Let’s be clear on our benchmarks and indicators," she said.

Duque said measuring the country's progress in the COVID-19 battle does not only take into account testing capacity but other factors such as contact-tracing. However, he maintained that flattening the curve does not mean people should become complacent.

"Tama pa rin yung ginagawa natin (What we are doing is still correct)...I'm not saying we should pat ourselves on the back," he said.

Just two days ago, an expert told CNN Philippines that the first wave may still be ongoing.

"There are some scientists who are saying we just pushed the first peak farther, that means we bought time. And as soon as we opened up, the peak will go up," said Ted Herbosa, medical adviser to the National Task Force on COVID-19.

“So some even say this is still the first wave just delayed by about 50 days of ECQ (enhanced community quarantine)," he added. "The other thing is that we’ve already flattened it and the peak will happen from external sources, other sources."

Herbosa said he and fellow experts use the viral disease's "reproductive number" to determine the curve, with the goal being the statistic to drop to a value below one. Herbosa noted that the country was able to lower the rate to about 0.6 during the height of the ECQ implementation, but latest data show the number is hovering around 1.

Duque said the Health Department is now focused on preventing a third wave of cases as quarantine restrictions slowly ease. Duque said the agency is working on ensuring that "minimum health standards" such as reducing vulnerability, reducing transmission and reducing contact, are followed.

Reducing vulnerability means "increasing physical and mental resilience" by adopting a healthy lifestyle, while reducing transmission refers to preventive measures such as wearing face masks, practicing cough etiquette and using disinfectants, Duque said. On the other hand, reducing contact pertains to physical distancing or keeping people at least a meter apart.

The Health Department had earlier repeatedly warned the public of a possible "second wave" or surge of COVID-19 infections should the public stop practicing preventive measures and social distancing.

Metro Manila, Laguna and Cebu City have been under modified enhanced community quarantine for the past few days, which has allowed more businesses to resume operations. Meanwhile, low-risk areas are under general community quarantine with even lighter restrictions.