DOH reporting of COVID-19 cases not very reliable, says task force adviser

enablePagination: false
maxItemsPerPage: 10
maxPaginationLinks: 10

Dr. Tony Leachon, Special Adviser to the National Task Force on COVID-19, expressed disappointment at the Department of Health on Saturday, as it continues to present delayed data on the country's cases. (FILE PHOTO)

Metro Manila (CNN Philippines, June 14) — The Department of Health needs to act with more urgency, as the current reporting on the number of COVID-19 cases in the country has not been very reliable, a special advisor to the national task force said over the weekend.

In an interview with CNN Philippines, Dr. Tony Leachon, Special Adviser to the National Task Force on COVID-19,  stressed the importance of having real-time and accurate data in making recommendations and decisions on quarantine interventions.

“I think the risk communication is very important," Leachon told CNN Philippines on Saturday.

"You don’t just say those numbers there without explanation whether this is fresh or the deaths were actually from a month ago because based on the decision of the Inter-Agency Task Force on Monday, they will rely on those particular figures. And number two, what must be prioritized given we have finite resources?" Leachon said in a mix of English and Filipino.

"Would it be testing, contact tracing, isolation, quarantine, what is the true picture in other areas? Like for example, in Cebu, it's rising at epidemic proportions," Leachon said.

"Eh June 2 pa lang nakita ko ang trending but we have yet to wait for 14 or 15, hindi ba dapat ini-stop na siya a week earlier para dapat maayos na siya?" he added.

[Translation: Since June 2, I've been seeing what's trending but we have yet to wait for 14 or 15, shouldn't we stop it a week earlier so we can fix the reporting?]

According to Leachon, other countries do not report about late cases. If there are backlogs, these should have been fixed immediately.


Leachon said the reason behind the delays in processing the data and testing results remain unclear to him. But the people he asked attributed the backlogs to the lack of manpower – a problem that could have been solved earlier on.

The DOH should have thought of recruiting encoders and epidemiologists earlier on, he added.

"That’s the reason why we suggested at the National Task Force...I report to Sec (Carlito) Galvez with the UP Pandemic Team — tulungan na lang government to government at no cost...para wala kang babayaran," Leachon suggested. "Then you have the professors there — mathematicians, epidemiologists who can help the government kasi lahat naman sila e gusto tumulong for the government."

[Translation: That's the reason why we suggested at the National Task Force... I report to Secretary Carlito Galvez with the UP Pandemic Team — then we will help each other at a government-to-government effort and at no that they do not have to pay for anything. Then you have the professors there — mathematicians, epidemiologists who can help the government because a lot of them are willing to lend a hand anyway.]

He added that many experts and groups, such as infectious diseases expert Dr. Benjamin Co, the UP Pandemic Team, the Asian Institute of Management, and the Ateneo University, are willing to help the government report the cases accurately and could be tapped anytime to "lessen the accountability" on the part of the DOH.

"O, andyan na lahat ng private sector na gusto tumulong (Now you have everyone from the private sector who are willing to help) so no one will question right now the credibility of the data," he added.


Leachon opened up about his disappointment and frustration in the DOH's reporting of cases in a series of tweets on Saturday.

"To me, it’s my moral responsibility to tell the people the true state of our crisis. It will be a disservice also to the President and to the IATF (Inter-Agency Task Force) and the NTF, the unrecognized and faceless men and women working for the country...yet this important particular issue — I think — the real time and granularity of the data that's what matters most, but people would look the other way and turn a blind eye," he said.

For Leachon, most government leaders and agencies have been performing at their best capacity. However, he stressed that no matter how hard they work, their response all boils down to the reliability of the data, the true picture.

The NTF consultant agreed that there should be a balance between health and the economy, but he pointed out that other agencies and leaders can only make appropriate response when they have correct and reliable data.

“I think the government has done enough— the economic stimulus, the social amelioration program, and all the other efforts of the IATF, that's why all those initiatives will make sense when it boils down to the real and granular data so that you can execute your plans," Leachon noted.

"You’re like looking for a needle in haystack with your eyes blind, parang ganun e, ganun ang aking feeling. Hindi mo alam kung tama ang ginagawa mo because your data, hindi mo alam kung tama o mali,” Leachon said.

[Translation: It looks like you're looking for a needle in a haystack with your eyes blind, the feeling is like that. You don't know if what you're doing is right because you don't know if the data is correct or not


Leachon agreed with Interior Secretary Eduardo Año's recommendation that Metro Manila should stay under the general community quarantine.

In an interview with CNN Philippines’ The Source, Año earlier said it is best to keep the National Capital Region under GCQ after June 15 to hold off a spike in COVID-19 infections.

“I would agree kasi may cases ka, kaya lang better than before. Kaya lang, I was shocked tonight (June 13) na malaman na nag-zoom up ulit so ‘yung GCQ na sinasabi ni Secretary Año hindi ko alam magiging decision kasi you have one day pa, Sunday, for the data pero ‘yung data (on June 13) medyo mataas siya… highest siya ever.”

[Translation: I would agree because you have cases, but the situation is better than before. But I was shocked after finding out that the cases zoomed up again, so with Secretary Año's recommendation on the GCQ, we do not know if that would be a solid decision because we still have until Sunday to gauge. But the data on June 13 is pretty high, it has been the highest ever.]

Leachon has not come up with an updated recommendation for quarantine interventions and is still waiting for the latest data.

But with the figures as of Saturday afternoon, Leachon suggested that tighter quarantine measures must be implemented again in Cebu City.

"It clear to me that (Cebu City) should not be under GCQ, so either it’s MECQ or ECQ because it has a rapid rise, so it cannot be status quo.”

The country's national tally for COVID-19 cases has reached over 25,000 with 607 new infections. Cebu City alone has more than 3,400 cases, with 73 new cases from 27 barangays.

According to Leachon, there could be an artificial rise in Metro Manila because of increased testing, but Cebu City may have a different situation.

“I would understand in Manila na dahil ang-increase testing capacity mo that it will increase dahil mas maraming testing centers dito sa Metro Manila, so it might be an artificial rise I would agree with that," Leachon said. "Pero yung Cebu na acute ang cases, iisa ang testing center, Vicente Sotto, then it might be overwhelmed."

[Translation: I would understand in Manila that by increasing its testing capacity, cases will increase because there are more testing centers here, so I would agree with the artificial rise. But in Cebu which has acute cases and with only one testing center, Vicente Sotto, then it might be overwhelmed.]

CNN Philippines is still waiting for the response of the Health department and the IATF to date.