Not flattening the curve yet: PH still on first wave of COVID-19 infections, expert says

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Metro Manila (CNN Philippines, May 21)— The Philippines has yet to move past the "first wave" of COVID-19 cases, an infectious disease expert said Thursday as he contradicted claims that the country is now riding the second surge of infections.

Speaking to CNN Philippines' The Source, Dr. Benjamin Co said he does not agree with Health Secretary Francisco Duque's pronouncement that the Philippines is already in the middle of the second wave of COVID-19 infections, maintaining that the country— based on data— has yet to flatten the curve.

"I don't agree (that we're on the second wave)... To me, this is just the first wave and we are still in that continuum. We've never been able to downplay or flatten the curve in any way, we remain in a plateau," said Co, a pediatric infectious disease specialist and consultant at various hospitals including the Asian Hospital and Medical Center. He trained in molecular and clinical pharmacology at the Boston University in the United States.

Duque made the claim during Wednesday's Senate hearing, when he cited the findings of epidemiologist Dr. John Wong and other experts.

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

He added there had been a "lull" following the reportage of the first few cases, before the major wave— where tens of thousands of new infections were recorded— hounded the country.

Co, however, explained that a few initial "sprinkling" of cases as well as a lull in between emerging infections are normal scenarios in a disease outbreak.

"For every infectious disease, there will always be a couple of cases initially," the medical expert said.

"If we consider that definition of a few sprinkling of cases and lull in between, then Wuhan would have been in the same place, because they saw the first few cases, there was a lull in between, and they had a spike in cases in the end of December. Then other countries are now in their second wave as well."

Apart from Co, netizens, other local health experts, and even lawmakers have refuted the claim.

Dr. Ted Herbosa, medical adviser to the national task force on COVID-19, earlier said that the country may still be riding the first wave of cases, relaying that some scientists believe that the imposed lockdowns only "bought" time for the peak.

"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," Herbosa said in a previous interview with CNN Philippines. "“So some even say this is still the first wave just delayed by about 50 days of ECQ (enhanced community quarantine)."

Senators were also skeptical about the pronouncement, as they questioned how the country was already able to "flatten the curve" during the first wave when it has yet to meet testing targets.

Metro Manila and other COVID-19 high risk areas have been placed under a modified ECQ— which sees less strict lockdown policies in a bid to gradually reopen the economy.

However, photos of citizens heading out and swarming the malls during its first day of implementation raised alarm for authorities, who have cautioned against a “resurgence” of infections if Filipinos do not follow proper distancing protocols.

'Work on recoveries'

Co, however, remains hopeful the country will soon be on its way to flatten the curve.

Although the Philippines has consistently reported rising recoveries from the infection, Co said he also hopes the country can "work more" on this data, given that several of these cases were reported months ago, and should have already recovered by now.

"I appreciate that we have lesser deaths, it's just that we also need to work on our recoveries," Co said.

"The DOH has data now that shows you that our hospitalization rate is down, which is good. But our recoveries, what happened to the patients in March and April? If you look at it, lampas na tayo ng (we are already way past the) 30 days. All that thousands of data should have matched now the recoveries, but our recoveries are just 2,000," he added.

To date, COVID-19 cases in the Philippines have breached 13,000. A total of 842 have died, while 2,932 have recovered.