Cases cross 200,000 in Philippines, dimming hopes of slowdown in spread

Coronavirus infections in the Philippines topped 200,000 yesterday – more than half of which were reported this month alone – dampening hopes that the country could finally see a “flattening of the curve” by next month.

The Health Ministry reported 5,277 new cases of Covid-19 yesterday, taking the Philippines’ total caseload to 202,361.

At least 118,000 of these cases were added to the tally this month.

Ninety-nine more deaths from the coronavirus were also reported yesterday. More than 3,100 have so far died in the Philippines, a third of which occurred this month alone.

The Philippines has the most number of cases in South-east Asia.

The country crossed another grim milestone despite a two-week lockdown enforced early this month and assurances from health officials that a “rebooted” response should slow the virus’ spread.

Before that lockdown, most of the Philippines went through one of the world’s strictest and longest shelter-at-home restrictions from mid-March to May.

Since those restrictions were eased, however, cases have surged, from just 300 to 500 a day to an average of 4,500 in recent weeks.

This month’s lockdown again grounded some 27 million people inside their homes. This was supposed to give hospitals a breather, after health groups warned that the health system was close to collapsing.

But a week after stay-at-home curbs were relaxed, and despite the promise of a “refreshed” response, hospitals remain overwhelmed with patients, and health workers say they are still working more hours, covering more ground and getting meagre pay.

About three-quarters of hospital beds reserved for coronavirus patients are occupied, according to a daily bulletin from the Health Ministry.

Data analysts at the state-run University of the Philippines had forecast a “flattening of the curve” by the end of next month.

The situation is “not yet out of control”, said Professor Guido David, who heads a research team at the university. “Flattening does not mean it is over. It means there are still cases but the number of cases is on the decline.”

He said Covid-19 cases in the Philippines would have surged to 250,000 by Aug 31, if not for the lockdown and other measures the government is now taking.

But Health Undersecretary Maria Rosario Vergeire said “nothing is certain at this point”.

Another lockdown to contain the outbreak is unlikely. The government has already pivoted from pursuing a more aggressive approach to tackle the coronavirus to restarting a shrinking economy.

The Philippine economy suffered its deepest slump on record in the second quarter, plunging the nation into a recession with little hope of a quick recovery.

Government economists pinned that on crippling measures enforced during the sweeping lockdown from mid-March to May 31 that shut down three quarters of the economy. At least three million people lost their jobs as businesses both large and small were either closed or downsized.

President Rodrigo Duterte has said the government no longer has money to feed those who have lost the means to earn a living.

He is instead pinning the nation’s chances of a recovery on a vaccine that may not come till December.

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