MANILA — While COVID-19 cases in the Philippines, especially in Metro Manila, continue to rise, nearly a third or 32 percent of the country’s provinces and 38 percent of its cities are still seemingly untouched by the pandemic.
Data from the Department of Health show that 26 out of 81 provinces in the Philippines have not had a single confirmed case of COVID-19 to date, according to the ABS-CBN Investigative and Research Group (IRG).
Among the regions, the Cordillera Administrative Region (CAR) and Caraga (Region XIII) have the most number of COVID-free provinces with 4 each. They are followed by Bicol, Eastern Visayas and BARMM (Bangsamaro Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao) with 3 provinces each:
Regions with COVID-free provinces:
- CAR (4 provinces) - Apayao, Ifugao, Kalinga, and Mountain Province
- Caraga (4 provinces) - Agusan del Sur, Dinagat Islands, Surigao del Norte, and Surigao del Sur
- Bicol (3 provinces) - Camarines Norte, Masbate, and Sorsogon
- Eastern Visayas (3 provinces) - Biliran, Eastern Samar, and Southern Leyte
- BARMM (3 provinces) - Basilan, Sulu, Tawi-Tawi
- Zamboanga Peninsula (2 provinces) - Zamboanga del Norte and Zamboanga Sibugay
- Cagayan Valley (2 provinces) - Batanes and Quirino
- Davao Region - Davao Occidental
- Western Visayas - Guimaras
- Soccsksargen - Sarangani
- Central Visayas - Siquijor
- Central Luzon - Aurora
Despite having 4 of its 6 provinces without any COVID-19 case, CAR has a total of 25 confirmed cases - 3 in Abra and 22 in Benguet, 18 of whom are in Baguio City. However, according to DOH data as of April 21, all cases in Abra and 14 in Benguet have already recovered, including 11 from Baguio City. Only one patient from Baguio City died.
Meanwhile, Caraga, the region with the lowest number of cases, only has two confirmed COVID-19 patients, who are in Butuan City, Agusan del Norte.
On Tuesday, the Department of Health confirmed that around 30 provinces have zero COVID-19 cases or have not seen an increase in cases in a long time. Health Undersecretary Maria Rosario Vergeire said this was “good news.”
The DOH did not say which provinces have not seen an increase in their COVID-19 cases.
Vergeire also confirmed that the “doubling time” of COVID-19 cases in the Philippines has slowed down.
“Kung dati rati, sa loob ng 3 araw dumodoble na ang mga kaso, ngayon mas matagal na ito. Halos 5 araw na ang average,” she said.
(If in the past the number of cases doubled every 3 days, now it’s longer. The average is 5 days.)
The DOH is now aiming for a doubling time of 30 days or around 12,000 cumulative COVID-19 cases by May 20.
Experts from the National Research Council of the Philippines (NRCP) said the population or location of the provinces and cities could play a part on why they have zero cases.
“Most of the areas mentioned are among the sparsely populated component regions, cities, towns based on the PSA (Philippine Statistics Authority) 2015 Census,” said Dr. Florence Navidad, a faculty member at the University of Santo Tomas’ Department of Medical Technology.
Navidad, who specializes in epidemiology and public health, also pointed out that many of the provinces in the list are located in islands, near the seashore, or in mountainous regions.
Of the 26 provinces, 9 or 35 percent are islands. Three of them are in the BARMM: Basilan, Sulu, and Tawi-Tawi.
The other island provinces are Batanes and Masbate in Luzon; Guimaras, Biliran, and Siquijor in the Visayas; and the Dinagat Islands in Mindanao.
“Geographically, Philippines is an archipelago which is composed of inaccessible and far-off islands and mountain ranges. With this, it becomes advantageous in the reduction of transmission and slows down the spread of the virus,” Artemio Gonzales Jr., who is also a member of the NRCP specializing in epidemiology at the Occidental Mindoro State College, told ABS-CBN News.
Navidad also said that lifestyle practices could be a factor since eating fresh fruits and vegetables, and walking helps strengthen the immune system. Those areas, she said, may also have “health-seeking practices” through the observance of traditional medicine.
She also mentioned that many of the said places have high incidence of poverty.
“Less contact with individuals, less foreign travels, fewer interactions with other individuals,” she told ABS-CBN News.
Vergeire told DZMM on Wednesday that while initial data showed that many of the COVID-19 patients come from the middle and upper classes, those who contract the virus now come from all walks of life.
“Nagumpisang magkaroon ng sakit dito… sa may history of travel,” she said.
(The ones who got sick here first were those with history of travel.)
She explained that the middle and upper classes are the ones who have the capability to travel abroad for leisure or work.
While a number of regions have multiple provinces that are coronavirus-free, there are regions with only one province with no reported COVID-19 case so far.
Aurora in Central Luzon is among them.
On March 15, the same day that the community quarantine began in Metro Manila, the provincial government issued an executive order banning the entry of tourists and non-residents in the province.
The President then expanded the quarantine to all of Luzon on March 17.
“'Yung paglo-lockdown agad ng Aurora 'yun talaga 'yung pinaka-crucial,” Gov. Gerardo Noveras said in a phone interview with ABS-CBN News.
(The immediate lockdown of Aurora was the most crucial factor.)
He also pointed out that many of Aurora’s residents are farmers who rarely travel to other places.
With no more tourists entering the provinces, he said they limited the number of potential carriers of the virus.
“Kaya 'yung mga (truck) drivers, once lumabas 'yan ng Aurora, magse-self-quarantine ng 14 days. Hindi agad makakabiyahe,” he added.
(The drivers, once they leave Aurora, they self-quarantine for 14 days. They can’t immediately go back to work.)
Noveras said a truck driver from their province had fever last week and although he felt better after a day or two, they decided to keep him isolated. It was only today that they received his test results from the Research Institute for Tropical Medicine, which turned out negative.
He said that for now, they are trying their best to strictly implement the lockdown to keep their province COVID-free.
Meanwhile, there are a total of 340 COVID-19 cases elsewhere in Central Luzon, which now ranks third among regions with the most number of confirmed cases.
The other provinces in Central Luzon are also included in the list of top 10 provinces in the country with the most number of COVID-19 cases: Bulacan with 103 cases, Bataan with 74, Pampanga with 60, and Nueva Ecija with 48 cases.
Siquijor is also a seeming safe zone in Central Visayas, a region with 197 confirmed cases — the fourth highest among regions. Most of these patients are in Cebu province.
Davao Region, which has the fifth highest number of COVID-19 cases (110 as of Tuesday) among regions, has Davao Occidental as the only coronavirus-free province.
Also still without any COVID-19 case are Sarangani in Soccsksargen and Guimaras in Western Visayas.
2 IN 5 CITIES
Besides provinces, there is also a substantial number of cities around the Philippines that are still COVID-free.
“Tacloban City is the only highly urbanized city that remains COVID-free as of writing while Ormoc City is the only independent component city in the country with no confirmed cases of COVID-19,” ABS-CBN IRG said.
Both cities are in Eastern Visayas, which has 6 confirmed COVID-19 cases in total.
ABS-CBN IRG said that the biggest chunk (12 out of the 55) of COVID-free cities are in Western Visayas. The region with the second most number of coronavirus-free cities is Central Visayas with 10.
Also with a large number of coronavirus-free cities are Northern Mindanao (6 cities), Eastern Visayas (6), Caraga (5), and Bicol (4).
Zamboanga Peninsula and Central Luzon each have three cities that have no reported cases as of Tuesday, while Ilocos Region has two.
Davao Region, CAR, BARMM, and Cagayan Valley have one COVID-free city each.
DOH data also showed that three known tourist destinations are included in the coronavirus-free list: Tagbilaran City, Vigan City, and the Island Garden City of Samal.