MANILA - The number of COVID-19 cases in the Philippines may go past 60,000 by the end of July with 1,300 deaths, according to a University of the Philippines study published Monday.
Researchers project the number of virus infections in Cebu province would be 15,000, assuming enhanced community quarantine will be in place there until July 31. If the protocols will be relaxed, it may surge to 20,000 to 30,000.
For Metro Manila, the current reproduction rate in the region leads to a projection of almost 30,000 cases, with 860 deaths by July 31, the study said. If transmissions decrease, the lower estimate of 27,000 cases may be reached.
The virus' reproduction rate for the entire country is estimated at 1.28, indicating that the pandemic is not yet on the downward trend, the UP researchers said as they urged government to "re-examine and re-calibrate its strategies."
"We emphasize that the projected increase in cases and deaths can be prevented by rapidly identifying and breaking chains of viral transmission," they said.
"This requires having clear targets to measure whether the strategies are working, such as keeping positivity rates low (below 7 percent), and active cases trending down."
The researchers said the easing of quarantine restrictions must be matched with "more pandemic surveillance, effective strategies for social distancing, and compliance with other health protocols" such as wearing of face masks, increased testing, tracing and isolation, and promotion of personal hygiene practices.
Government must increase its testing capability, the healthcare system's capacity to deal with potential outbreaks, ensure sufficient supplies for personal protective equipment, set up more isolation facilities, and implement effective and aggressive contact tracing.
"We urge the DOH to continue to expand the testing capacity until we can test a minimum of 10,000 and 20,000 individuals in NCR and the Philippines, respectively. These should be the average number of tests completed daily over a two-week period," the researchers said.
They urged the private sector to scale up its efforts to avoid virus infections in workplaces, provide testing as needed, and conduct contact tracing as businesses began to resume operations last June 1.
The University of the Philippines OCTA Research released the study as President Rodrigo Duterte is set to announce later Tuesday new community quarantine measures.
The group earlier projected that virus infections in the country would reach 40,000 by the end of June.
As of Monday, the Philippines has recorded 36,438 COVID-19 cases, with 9,956 recoveries and 1,255 deaths.
Guido David, a researcher and professor at the UP Institute of Mathematics who took part in the forecast study, said Cebu City's placement under strict lockdown for the second time helped manage the infection.
"May mga mabuting indicators naman. Sa ngayon, nakikita namin na bumabagal ang pag-spread sa Cebu. So, malaking bagay yung nabalik sila sa ECQ (enhanced community quarantine). I think mas na ma-manage nila ang spread ng pandemic," he told ABS-CBN's TeleRadyo.
(There are some good indicators. Right now, we see that the spread of the virus in Cebu is slowing. So, its placement under ECQ again had a big impact. I think they were able to manage the pandemic better.)
The projections were based on the current trend using government's data, David said as he hopes officials would further address the backlog on coronavirus tests.
To date, there is a "significant backlog" of some 5,000 cases and 2,794 "uncategorized cases" in the health department's COVID-19 database, according to the researchers.
"Nababawasan naman nang konti, pero sana ma-adjust natin ang backlog na issue na ito," David said.
(It's getting fewer but we hope we can adjust this backlog issue.)