When did the 2nd COVID-19 wave start in PH?

Kristine Sabillo, ABS-CBN News

Posted at May 20 2020 06:22 PM | Updated as of May 20 2020 07:41 PM

MANILA — Health Secretary Francisco Duque III on Wednesday bared for the first time that the Philippines was already experiencing the second wave of the COVID-19 outbreak. 

But when did this start? In early March, an epidemiology expert explained. 

“For COVID-19 here in the Philippines there was a very small wave last few days of January,” said Dr. John Wong, who is a member of the sub-technical working group on data analytics of the Inter-Agency Task Force on COVID-19.

Wong was referring to the country’s first three confirmed cases of COVID-19, who were all foreign nationals who had come from Wuhan, the Chinese city where the virus originated. 

Wong had first mentioned that the country was already on its 2nd wave of coronavirus infections back in May 7 during a virtual briefing of the Department of Health (DOH).

In a DOH briefing on Wednesday afternoon, Wong explained that experts define outbreak waves as “when there’s a rise in cases and then a decrease in cases.”

“It’s like the waves of an ocean. There’s a peak and then there’s a trough,” he said.

After the first wave, there was a “lull,” he said, explaining why the three cases were together still considered a wave despite the small number.

Back in February, the DOH said the country was seeing a “decreasing trend” in COVID-19 cases since there were no new patients after the Chinese nationals. The department did say that people should not be complacent.

Wong said the 2nd wave started during the 1st week of March after a “very quiet” February.

“And then we had our 2nd wave, which was the 1st major wave of more than 10,000 cases,” Wong said.

The peak of the 2nd wave was when the Philippines reported 538 new cases on March 31.

Data from DOH. Graph from ABS-CBN Data Analytics

Wong said the country is now at the “lower part” of this 2nd wave with the new cases averaging at 220 per day.

FLATTENING THE CURVE

He cautioned against an abrupt shift from an enhanced community quarantine (ECQ) to a general community quarantine (GCQ), where movement restrictions are looser. 

Currently, the cities of Cebu and Mandaue are under ECQ, Metro Manila, Laguna and several other "transitioning high-risk" areas in Central Luzon are under modified ECQ, and the rest of the country is under general quarantine.

“What we want to avoid is the ECQ will be shifted to GCQ and we’ll have another peak or several more peaks. So we will try to postpone the 3rd or subsequent waves,” he said.

Wong claimed that the country is now “flattening the curve” or is succeeding in slowing down the spread of COVID-19.

“The flattening of the curve occurred about that time after the peak of 500 cases a day, instead of going straight up we’re experiencing fewer cases,” he said. 

Some experts have questioned this pronouncement since there was still a slow uptick of cases recently.

Wong also pointed out that the “flattening of the curve” is observed in relation to the health care system’s capacity to accommodate COVID-19 patients.

...BUT STILL THE 'FIRST MAJOR WAVE'

Health Undersecretary Maria Rosario Vergeire said that while epidemiologists consider the first 3 cases in the country as the first wave, the DOH acknowledges that “what counts (for the public) would be the major wave." 

"Hence, we are on our first major wave,” she said. 

She also reiterated the lower number of new cases averaging at 220 a day over the last 5 weeks.

“Limang linggo po ay mahaba nang panahon (5 weeks is a long time). This is longer than the incubation period of the virus,” she said.

Vergeire reminded the public that what is important is to prevent another peak in cases by continuing to practice physical distancing, disinfection and other measures to prevent the transmission of COVID-19.

Two experts, meanwhile, have questioned the statement on the Philippines being on the second wave of the COVID-19 outbreak as the country “never flattened anything yet."