UP researchers forecast 40,000 COVID-19 cases by June 30

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Metro Manila (CNN Philippines, June 11) — COVID-19 infections in the Philippines may reach 40,000 by June 30 under the current situation, according to a forecast by the University of the Philippines OCTA Research Team.

The group calculated the possible number of additional infections based on the R naught, or the infectivity rate of the virus.

This represents the number of people who may be infected by a confirmed case. Ideally, this should be one or less, as anything higher means there is still significant community transmission.

The graph shows the projected infectivity rate based on the nationwide data from April 2 to June 9

As of June 9, the R naught nationwide is 1.2 and 0.96 in Metro Manila.

“In-assume lang namin na 1.2. Kung bumaba yung R naught, which is bumababa pa. Kasi sa NCR less than 1 ang R naught. So pag i-project natin ‘yan, mas kaunti naman ang cases,” UP Institute of Mathematics Professor Guido David explained.

[Translation: We assumed that the R naught remains at 1.2. The R naught is already going down. In the National Capital Region, the R naught is less than 1. If we project that, there will be less cases.]

He added that the forecast may still change depending on the current trends.

“Nag-stabilize ‘yung weight of infection," David pointed out. "Although may infection pa rin, hindi na siya kasing dami. Sa spike kasi, ‘yun din ang nag-cause nitong pagtaas ng R naught.”

[Translation: The weight of infection has stabilized. Although there are still infections, they’re not as much as before.

The graphs show the projected infectivity rate based on the NCR and Cebu data from April 2 to June 9.

UP Political Science Associate Professor Ranjit Singh Rye, another member of the research team, said that people’s mobility and proximity from one another are major drivers of community transmission.

Rye said the infection rate spiked upon the reopening of the economy.

“The important thing to note, last May 30 the R naught was 2," Rye said. "When we opened up the economy, tumaas nga ang infection rate natin. So that was last May 30.” .

While the number has gone down to 1.2, Rye said easing restrictions is still not ideal at this time

“It has gone down significantly to 1.2," he said. "It’s still above 1. It’s still a significant number that government must take seriously and design appropriate timely measures.”

He said that based on the team's data, it cannot recommend any further loosening of restrictions.

“Of course, when the government decides, we all appreciate that it just doesn’t look at health concerns, it looks at other factors," he said. "What we caution government is to move without data and that is where we are as far as recommendation.”

Rye said the enhanced community quarantine helped reduce the transmission rate of COVID-19.

He said there is a need to further strengthen the country’s testing capacity and contact tracing capabilities.

While the actual testing capacity has increased to 10,000 daily as of Tuesday, Rye said the ideal number of tests conducted daily should be at least 15,000.

In addition, David said random testing could help find asymptomatic patients.

David and Rye emphasized that the government also needs to monitor provinces where there is a spike in the number of infections, such as Cebu.

“Pero ang main battleground nasa NCR pa rin at Cebu sa ngayon," David said. "Almost all the rest na hindi ko nasabi, ‘yung outside NCR, greater Metro Manila, outside Cebu, karamihan sa kanila, winning the war.”

Asymptomatic patients

Majority of the confirmed cases are mild cases, while less than 10 percent are asymptomatic.

David said this is lower compared to other countries where 30 percent to 40 percent of confirmed cases are not exhibiting any symptoms of COVID-19. This could mean that the number of asymptomatic patients is underreported.

“Siguro hindi natin nakikita ang karamihan ng asymptomatic kasi gumagala sila," he noted. "Hindi natin nate-test sila. Hindi natin alam sino ang nakakapag-spread. Kaya may nagtatanong, bakit kumakalat ang pandemic, may quarantine naman tayo. Mayroon pa ring mobility ang asymptomatic, presumably sila nag-spread.”

[Translation: Maybe that’s why we haven’t seen most of the asymptomatic patients because they still roam around. We don’t get to test them. We don’t know who is spreading the virus … That’s why people ask why the pandemic is still spreading when we are under quarantine. Asymptomatic patients still have mobility, and presumably they are spreading it.]

David said a possible way to track asymptomatic patients is through random testing, especially for those who are returning to work.

Health spokesperson Maria Rosario Vergeire said the Department of Health is revising protocols in testing.

“We have reached that point in our capacity na pwede na tayong mag-accommodate ng mga more high risk individuals with or without symptoms,” she said.

[Translation: We have reached that point in our capacity that we can accommodate more high risk individuals with or without symptoms.]

She also explained that while asymptomatic patients can infect other people, 85 percent of those who are spreading the virus that causes COVID-19 are symptomatic patients through coughing or sneezing.

‘More recoveries, less admitted COVID-19 patients’

The UP OCTA Research Team also found that the healthcare system in Metro Manila is improving. There are currently more people recovering from the virus and less people admitted in hospitals this month. There is no spike in the number of deaths as well.

“Hindi na loaded ang healthcare capacity," David said. "Another good news dito, ang death rate natin, parang ‘di masyadong dumadami ‘yung na-hospitalize na namatay. So parang constant ‘yung number actually. So this is good news. Yung healthcare natin is improving, we’re coping with the pandemic better.”

[Translation: The healthcare capacity is not loaded. Another good news here is that our death rate, the number of those dying in hospitals is not going up that much anymore. So the number is constant, actually. This is good news. Our healthcare is improving, we’re coping with the pandemic better.]

However, David said 16 percent of those admitted in the hospital died of COVID-19 because those who needed hospitalization are in severe or critical condition.

“Serious sila so medyo malaki ang chance na may mangyari sa kanila," he said. "At the same time ang recovery rate, tumataas siya from March until present, ngayon nasa almost 50 percent ang recovery rate natin. So, maganda rin na balita.”

[Translation: They’re in serious condition so there’s a high chance that something would happen to them. At the same time, our recovery rate, from March until present, is almost at 50 percent. So it’s still good news.]