DOH apologizes for confusion over 'second wave' remark

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Metro Manila (CNN Philippines, May 21) — The Department of Health apologized Thursday for the confusion caused by Secretary Francisco Duque III's announcement that the country is already experiencing a second wave of coronavirus infections.

Special Assistant to the Health Secretary Beverly Ho confirmed in an online briefing that the Philippines is still in the first wave of the outbreak, as earlier clarified by Presidential Spokesperson Harry Roque.

"The DOH confirms that yes, we are in the first wave driven by local community transmission," Ho said.Duque made the same statement in an online hearing of the House committee on health.

The agency confirmed local transmission of the coronavirus disease in March, when Filipinos who had no history of exposure to known COVID-19 cases and no recent travel history abroad, were diagnosed with the viral illness.

"We are still in this wave," Ho said, adding that the country reached the peak on March 31, when the number of confirmed COVID-19 cases jumped by 538.

Since then, the daily increase in infections averaged at around 220 and "this is the reason why we are saying that we have started to flatten the curve," Ho added.

"We apologize for the confusion that this has caused. But we hope that this does not in anyway distract us from what we really need to do to change the course of this pandemic," Ho said, referring to social distancing and other necessary measures to prevent further spread of the virus.

Why Duque used 'second wave' term

Government officials are clarifying Duque’s controversial remarks in a Senate hearing on Wednesday, which surprised and alarmed lawmakers and the public.

Senators questioned how the country was already able to "flatten the curve" during the first wave when it has yet to meet coronavirus testing targets.

In a virtual hearing of the House of Representatives, Duque explained his use of the term "second wave" and said the country is at the "first major wave of sustained community transmission."

"My statement was a casual expression of an epidemiologic fact because the first wave… that indeed there was a first wave but very small which consist of three imported cases in January," he said.

"In the epidemiological sense, cases that show a rise or a crest and then a decrease or trough constitutes a wave, although a very small wave. And we have nothing for February and this was followed by a bigger wave which we now consider first major wave of community transmission," he said.

Roque, however, said that based on his consultation with health experts, three cases are too few to be considered a wave. Roque is also spokesperson of the government's COVID-19 task force.

READ: COVID-19 task force spokesman refutes Health Chief's statement on second wave

Dr. Edsel Salvana, an infectious disease expert, has bared that genome data suggests the local transmission in March has partially originated from India. He further explained that the virus "came to India from Australia, and came to Australia from China."

PH situation 'getting better,' but curve not yet flattened

Dr. Tony Leachon, special adviser to the government's COVID-19 task force, said the country's coronavirus situation is "getting better," based on a slower increase in infections and deaths.

He clarified, however, that what the country is seeing is not a flattening of the curve but a plateauing. This was also raised by Rep. Carlos Zarate during the House hearing, but Duque stood by his earlier announcement that the country has flatted the coronavirus curve, based on the report made by seven "expert groups."

Leachon said that only an expanded testing and intensive contact tracing would help the country return to the "new normal."

Salvana, meanwhile, backed Duque’s claim as he pointed out that the lockdown helped in preventing the country’s health system from getting overwhelmed.

“The whole point of flattening the curve is to give your health system time to catch up,” he told CNN Philippines on Thursday. “So in that sense, we’ve flattened the curve because our healthcare system did not get overwhelmed, although it was close at the start.”

Salvana added that while the Philippines lags behind its neighbors in Southeast Asia, it is doing relatively well in its fight against the dreaded virus, compared to other nations across the globe.

He added that in terms of cases and tests conducted, the country’s “closest match” is Japan, which he noted is a first world nation.

Much of the country is under general community quarantine, while some areas like Metro Manila are under stricter lockdown restrictions to prevent further spread of COVID-19.

The number of coronavirus cases nationwide rose to 13,434 on Thursday with 3,000 recoveries and 846 deaths.

CNN Philippines' Kristel Limpot contributed to this report.