MANILA (UPDATED)— September became the Philippines' worst month so far in its COVID-19 fight after breaking records and posting a total of over half a million new virus cases, compounded by the community transmission of the more virulent Delta variant.
According to ABS-CBN Data Analytics head Edson Guido, this month surpassed August in terms of new cases recorded at 561,752, though the health department encountered issues with its data collating system COVIDKaya towards the last week of the month.
The Philippines reported 406,346 cases in August, Guido said.
The country's all time high daily tally was also reported on Sept. 11 with 26,303 cases.
Meanwhile, the second and third highest fresh daily cases were logged on Sept. 18 (23,134) and Sept. 9 (22,820), data showed.
The last week of September, meanwhile, was hounded by issues related to the health department's data collating system COVIDKaya, which led to the reporting of 0 deaths for 3 straight days, from Sept. 24 to 26.
On the brighter side, deaths were lower this month compared with August, even with duplicates considered, the ABS-CBN data and research teams pointed out.
The country had 4,860 COVID-19 fatalities this month, compared to the 5,564 total deaths in August, Guido said.
SLUMP IN TESTING
On Thursday, the DOH said it was investigating the decline of COVID-19 tests in the past week, which could be the reason behind the low number of new infections being logged.
The agency emphasized that a 10-percent decline in tests was observed nationally, and 14 percent in the National Capital Region in the past week.
On Sept. 24, the DOH also cautioned the public in interpreting the data and concluding that the pandemic situation in virus epicenter Metro Manila has already improved considering the development.
According to Guido, the daily average of tests conducted from Sept. 23 to 29 was down to 68,989 from the 79,549 daily samples tested from Sept. 16 to 22.
This was analyzed based on DOH's data drop on Sept. 30, he said.
"The past few weeks, nasa 70,000 plus na. May mga araw na lumalagpas pa ng 80,000, pero ngayon kung napapansin niyo, nasa around 60,000 plus," the analyst noted in an interview over Teleradyo.
(The past few weeks were over 70,000 plus (tests), there were also some days that it went over 80,000. But now, testing is only around 60,000 plus)
"Pag mas mababa ang ating nate-test, mas mababa rin ang nakikita nating numero."
(If the test is low, our figures are also low)
The positivity rate, however, is also relatively lower compared to the previous days, according to Guido.
On Friday, the DOH posted a 21.3 percent positivity rate, the lowest in nearly 2 months or since Aug. 9. This is 4 times higher than the benchmark of the World Health Organization (WHO).
According to WHO, this can mean that the cases are slowing and the virus growth is controlled.
Guido said it is important that COVID-19 testing should increase, citing the efforts of the country's neighbors who are also battling the Delta variant.
"Isa lang ang sinasabi kapag napakataas ng positivity rate, it only means that kulang ang testing na ginagawa natin, at kung nagte-test tayo, ang tine-test lang natin ay yung mga talagang, 'the sickest patients,'" the analyst explained, citing a Bloomberg report on the country's pandemic response.
(If the positivity rate is high, it only means that our testing is limited. If we test, the people we are testing are only the 'sickest patients.')
"It's likely that there are high levels of undetected infections. Ito yung mga sinasabi nating nagkakaroon ng transmission na hindi natin nate-trace kaya patuloy ang pagtaas ng kaso kung talagang mahina ang ating testing," he added.
(The limited testing is what contributes to the COVID-19 transmission that remained undetected, thus the high number of new COVID-19 cases)
WHAT HAPPENED IN SEPTEMBER
Philippine authorities extended the modified enhanced community quarantine (MECQ) in Metro Manila until Sept. 15, as the government transitioned to the pilot implementation of new lockdown levels in the region.
The move aimed to jumpstart the pandemic-hit economy while trying to control the growth of infections amid the threat of the Delta variant.
A 5-tier new virus response strategy was then enforced in Metro Manila, with the region placed under Alert Level 4, allowing for granular lockdowns in areas with infection clusters.
Government has just extended implementation of Alert Level 4 in the region until Oct. 15, which includes targeted lockdowns in areas with cluster of infections.
The country also fell to the bottom of Bloomberg’s COVID Resilience Ranking in September, making it the worst place to be during the pandemic among 53 countries.
The Bloomberg report, published on Sept. 29, described the country's pandemic situation as a "perfect storm" amid the Delta variant transmission.
This developed "at the same time as it works with an inadequate testing regime and sees disruptions to its economy and people’s livelihoods as the pandemic continues to rage,” Bloomberg said.
On Friday, the DOH confirmed 15,566 new COVID-19 cases and 199 more deaths. Active cases, on the other hand, reached 130,268.
The Philippines logged its first confirmed COVID-19 case on Jan. 30 last year in a Chinese woman who arrived from Wuhan City, China where the disease is believed to have first emerged.
— with a report from Dave Abuel, ABS-CBN News