COVID-19 situation in the Philippines

COVID-19 situation in the Philippines

Date written: 13 May 2020

Background. The first confirmed case of coronavirus disease (COVID-19) in the Philippines was reported on 30 January 2020, with a Chinese national from Wuhan, China being admitted to San Lazaro Hospital in Manila due to mild cough. Days later, her male companion also tested positive for COVID-19 and had succumbed to death due to mixed infection – first death outside China. A third case involving a female Chinese was recorded again on 05 February 2020 in Bohol, Philippines. All three patients were found to have travel history from Hong Kong before coming to the Philippines. No new cases were recorded after that. However, it was only a month after, that another patient who had returned from Japan was admitted and confirmed to have contracted the disease. This was followed by a fifth patient without any travel history outside of the country; hence, the first local transmission of the infection in the Philippines.

A street that used to be very crowded, is now empty and is guarded by a temporary barangay post.

As of 13 May 2020, there are a total of 11,350 confirmed cases of COVID-19 infection in the Philippines, 751 patients have already died from the infection while 2106 individuals have already recovered (source: https://www.doh.gov.ph/covid19tracker). According the data from the Department of Health (DOH), a total of 158,384 tests have already conducted in the country, with the Research Institute for Tropical Medicine (RITM) spearheading the testing of suspected cases of the disease. Currently, the number of testing centers have increased to twenty-five.

People who receive ‘ayuda’ (help; assistance) from donors (UPCVM alumni) are still observing social distancing protocol implemented by the government. Face marks are also required to be worn all the time.

Response. Several measures were implemented following the increasing number of confirmed COVID-19 cases in the country. Since 16 March 2020, the entire Luzon has been placed under ‘enhanced community quarantine’ (ECQ) which entails suspension of mass public transportation, imposition of strict home quarantine among all households, closure of all private establishments, among others. It is noteworthy that healthcare workers and other ‘frontliners’ are exempted from the strict home quarantine. The ECQ was expected to be lifted on 30 April 2020, but it was extended to until 15 May 2020.

Following the declaration of state of calamity, the ‘Bayanihan to Heal as One’ Act (‘bayanihan’ means ‘communal work’) was enacted. The act allows the President to realign and reprogram an estimated budget of PHP 275 billion (approximately $5.4 billion) in response to the pandemic. The Social Amelioration Program (SAP) of the government, which aims to distribute PHP 5,000 to PHP 8,000 (approx. $100-$160) to beneficiaries, has also commenced.

Support from universities and other private firms. Various institutions have shown their support to help the government in combatting the on-going pandemic. For one, researchers and scientists from the University of the Philippines (UP) have developed a rapid test kit for COVID-19 (GenAmplifyTM COVID-19 rRT-PCR Detection Kit) that is designed to rapidly detect the nucleic acid of the pathogen. The test kit is said to be cheaper than those available from abroad. The developer also claims that it can provide results in two hours. Aside from this, different UP campuses across the country have offered help by providing 3D-printed face shields for ‘frontliners’; by lending RT-PCR machines to hospitals for diagnosis; by designing affordable ventilators for admitted patients; and, by offering their laboratories to be used as subnational testing centers. Moreover, the UP COVID-19 Pandemic Response Team made a web portal (http://endcov.ph/) that provides information to the public and responders about the COVID-19 situation in the country:

“The website features a highly detailed map wherein users can zoom in or zoom out to see street or satellite views of the general locations and numbers of COVID-19 cases, hospitals, quarantine checkpoints, and other usable data inputted by UP Resilience Institute (UPRI) staff. The easy-to-use map also has a color-coded “heat map” showing which localized areas have the most (darker areas) and the least (brighter areas) number of confirmed COVID-19 cases.” (Lifted from https://www.up.edu.ph/up-launches-web-portal-map-for-covid-19-responders/)

A number of food packages donated by university alumni for the daily wage earners who are severely affected by the enhanced community quarantine.

As of this writing, our country is still battling the wrath of this pandemic. Many Filipinos are having difficult time to cope with the current policies, especially the daily earners. With the community quarantine being enhanced, many of us have lost their jobs and only left with limited supply of foods. Weekly, the local government units (LGU) are distributing food ration enough to feed a family with 3-5 members. LGUs are also directed to conduct different programs to minimize congregation of people within an area. As such, many cities and towns have already implemented the mobilization of markets (“mobile palengke”) in the hopes that mass gathering will be minimized.

Currently, all public activities, including schools, have been suspended indefinitely. While many are still working in the comforts of their homes, it is still uncertain if we will still be able to go back to our old routine anytime soon. For now, we must face the fact that, even in a tropical country, wearing facemasks with less physical contact should be the ‘new normal’.

Contributed by Cris Nino Bon Marasignan,
University of Philippines, Los Baños,

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