Is PH past the first wave of COVID-19 infections? Experts weigh in

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Metro Manila (CNN Philippines, May 18)— Several government and health officials have continuously warned against a possible “second wave” of COVID-19 due to relaxed quarantine rules, but some experts said they are not even sure if the country has gone past the first wave of infections.

Dr. Ted Herbosa, medical adviser to the national task force on COVID-19, said experts and scientists have varying opinions on whether the Philippines is done or is still in the middle of a first wave of the pandemic.

“We don’t know (if PH is still going through first wave)..." Herbosa said in an interview with CNN Philippines’ The Source. "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.”

“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."

Among the parameters experts review to check the country’s progress in the COVID-19 battle is the “reproductive number” of the viral disease. Herbosa said the goal is for the statistic to decrease to a value below one.

He noted that the country was able to lower the rate to about 0.6 during the height of the ECQ implementation, but latest data shows the number is hovering around the higher value.

“The latest statistics is that we’re still somewhere there at 1, 1.1, 1.2. so we still have a risk of an outbreak if we are not following all the public health measures,” Herbosa warned.

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 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.

RELATED: Gov’t threatens to close down malls that fail to enforce physical distancing rules

Citizens’ behavior a part of country’s COVID-19 fight

Regardless of whether the country is battling the first or second wave of the disease, Herbosa said it is still important for citizens to be wary when they head outside.

He said that aside from the regulations the country’s COVID-19 task force will put in place, the public's behavior will be one of the deciding factors in the country’s “new normal.”

“The second wave is brought about by what happened in the Spanish influenza… people went out, had a parade, something like what happened in the malls," Herbosa said. "If people continue to do this type of behavior, we will end up with a second wave, and what we need to do is behave in the new normal.”

“So, we need to prevent that second wave and if it does happen, it must be a second wave that is within the capacity of our health system,” he added.

Aside from mass gatherings, Herbosa mentioned the return of overseas Filipino workers may be another factor in determining a new wave of infections. 

The government earlier assured that all returning kababayans will undergo strict quarantine procedures upon arrival.

Several officials and netizens have raised the need for ramped up COVID-19 testing across the country. This is the best way to quickly isolate those infected and contain the spread of the deadly virus.

To date, the Philippines has over 12,000 cases of COVID-19.