PH may soon be epicenter of COVID-19 in Southeast Asia: Leachon

Benise Balaoing, ABS-CBN News

Posted at Aug 31 2021 06:00 PM

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MANILA – The Philippines may soon be the epicenter of COVID-19 in Southeast Asia if the rising number of cases in the country is not abetted, a health reform advocate said Tuesday.

Former government adviser Dr. Tony Leachon said the Philippines is now in “a perfect storm” given the rising number of COVID-19 cases, low vaccination rate, poor contact tracing system, and the ongoing probe into the Department of Health in Congress.

“The healthcare system will soon collapse if we will not be able to control. Because of the increase in the positivity rate, more and more people are being tested and more and more people, because of the low testing, will become positive and they will go the hospital,” he said.

“And because of these, the deaths will also increase and also the number of hospitalizations will increase. And also, with the current system that the healthcare workers are right now - not inspired because of the unobligated funds and the delay in their benefits, the special risk allowance, the hazard pay and everything, this will actually aggravate the whole system.”

“And you have the Congress and the Senate investigating the P67 billion fund deficiency in the Senate. And you have problems at the DOH level. I’m calling this a perfect storm and this would actually be deteriorating in the next few weeks if we will not actually handle this situation very well,” he told ANC’s “Dateline Philippines.”

Leachon said the Philippines may soon face the same problems India and Indonesia had when a surge in cases due to the COVID-19 Delta variant hit them earlier this year.

“Basically, of the different experiences that we have seen in India and Indonesia, but given that they are, they have good leadership and governance system. Like in India, it used to be 400,000 last April, now it’s down to 40,000 a day. And Indonesia yesterday, according to Edson Guido, we registered 22,000, but Indonesia registered around just 4,500.”

“So, basically the epicenter in Southeast Asia is not anymore right now in that particular situation, and we are right now being in a position to be the epicenter if we will not be able to control this particular situation,” he said.

Leachon said the number of COVID-19 cases in the country may still rise in the coming days.

“I think the number will still increase this week, perhaps it will increase by 25,000 based on the projections of the experts,” he said. 

“And perhaps if this will be unabated, until September, this may actually rise to around 30,000,” he added.

In a separate interview on TeleRadyo, Prof. Jomar Rabajante of the UP Pandemic Response Team said the Philippines might tally up to 30,000 daily fresh cases until end of September and infections may peak in early October.

"Ito pong projections namin, kung titingnan, lumalabas ang cumulative cases, possible tayo lumagpas ng 3 million at even 4 million bago matapos ang 2021," Rabajante said.

(Our projections show that our cumulative cases might reach more than 3 million, even 4 million before 2021 ends.)

The DOH also expects cases to increase in the "coming days or weeks" due to the high transmissibility of the Delta variant, its spokesperson, Undersecretary Maria Rosario Vergeire, said.

"Kailangan i-factor in din natin because this is the Delta variant... We are seeing that cases would still continue to come in until September po yan. Tsaka po natin makikita bumaba," she said.

(We have to factor in that this is the Delta variant... We are seeing that cases would still continue to come in until September and then it will decline.)

The Philippines reported 22,366 new COVID-19 infections on Monday, its highest single-day tally since the pandemic began early last year.

The World Health Organization also said Tuesday that the highly infectious Delta variant is now the dominant coronavirus strain in the country.

Minimum health standards must be maintained and the country's vaccination program must be hastened, Rabajante said.

"Talagang dapat mas maging mabilis tayo sa pagbabakuna compared sa pagkalat ng virus," he said.

(We should be vaccinating faster than the virus spread.)

Hard lockdowns such as the enhanced community quarantine are no longer effective due to the increased mobility of the public, he added.

The DOH has proposed to the Inter-Agency Task Force Against COVID-19 that local governments focus on granular lockdowns, Vergeire said.

- with report from Gillan Ropero, ABS-CBN News