Bicol grapples with full hospitals, medical groups warn of India-like COVID-19 surge

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Metro Manila (CNN Philippines, June 16) — Hospitals in the Bicol Region are struggling to accommodate COVID-19 patients as all six provinces see a surge of new infections in the past weeks, with medical experts saying the region could eventually suffer the same fate as India.

Dr. Eloisa Pornillos, the president of Philippine College of Physicians - Bicol chapter, said on Wednesday that private and public hospitals in the region are 100% full and there is a shortage of medical devices such as ventilators and high-flow nasal cannulas.

Although the situation is dire in government facilities, the official said it is worse in private hospitals as they also deal with shortage of healthcare workers.

"What is suffering right now is the private hospitals because the nurses are going to the government hospitals because they pay better," she told CNN Philippines.

On Monday, several medical groups in Bicol flagged the "worsening" surge of cases in May and June due to localized transmission sweeping most parts of the region. They recorded an average of 183 new cases daily, with Camarines Sur, Albay, and Sorsogon as the biggest source of new infections.

In a joint letter addressed to Interior Secretary Eduardo Año, the Albay Medical Society, Camarines Sur Medical Society, Philippine Medical Association-Bicol, and the Philippine College of Physicians-Bicol called for stricter quarantine restrictions. They asked that the provinces of Albay, Camarines Sur, and Sorsogon be placed under the strictest enhanced community quarantine.

If not, they warned that the region may see a situation similar to India, which experienced a deadly second wave in May.

"If the current situation is not addressed, it is our fear that what is happening in India may not be far behind," the medical groups said.

For his part, Health Undersecretary Leopoldo Vega said facility-based isolation for COVID-19 cases would slow the spread of the coronavirus in the region.

"Karamihan po sa mga nakikita nilang positive for COVID-19 ay nagho-home quarantine," he said in a briefing.

[Translation: Most of the positive COVID-19 cases they are seeing in Bicol are undergoing home quarantine.]

"Nakipag-usap at [nakipagkasundo] na kami sa mayors doon po lalong lalo na sa Legazpi area na talagang magtayo sila ng isolation centers para ma-isolate kaagad ang positive cases nila...Kapag ginawa nila ito, bababa talaga ang transmission," he added.

[Translation: We have talked and agreed with Bicol mayors, including Legazpi, to put up isolation centers so they can immediately isolate positive cases. If they do this, the rate of transmission will go down.]

Meanwhile, Sorsogon Governor Francis Escudero disagreed with the statement of Pornillos that hospitals in the province are now full.

“The occupancy rate of our quarantine facilities in Sorsogon is only 38% while that of COVID beds is 56%,” he said on Twitter. “Please consult, or at least talk with us before writing or speaking in 'our behalf'.”

Albay Governor Al Francis Bichara extended the less restrictive general community quarantine over the province for the second half of June despite the spike in cases.