Philippines: Improvement in virus case doubling time

The doubling time of coronavirus cases in the Philippines has slowed to six days, the Department of Health (DoH) said on Wednesday, four days before quarantine restrictions in Metro Manila were expected to be eased.

Health Undersecretary Maria Rosario S Vergeire said the case doubling time in Metro Manila was 6.06 days, an improvement from the 4.6 days recorded at the start of this year. Before the imposition of a strict lockdown on Luzon in mid-March, the case doubling time in Metro Manila was 2.5 days.

The increase in the number of deaths also slowed down as the mortality doubling time is now 6.3 days, said Vergeire. Early this month, the mortality doubling time was 5.6 days and in March, four days.

A longer doubling time gives authorities time to capacitate the health system to ensure it would not be overburdened, allowing for better management of cases. Still, the current number is far from the DoH’s goal of doubling time of 30 days.

Despite the improvement in these metrics, which are among the factors considered in easing quarantine measures, Vergeire warned the public against complacency, especially as Metro Manila is expected to shift to general community quarantine next week.

“We are seeing good indications. But as we have always said, we cannot be complacent. We still need to be vigilant. We still need to observe [public health] measures so we would not have a sudden surge of cases,” she said.

Based on the DoH’s framework though, a locality can be considered to be at moderate risk for coronavirus infection and allowed to shift to a lower level of quarantine only if its case doubling time is between seven and 30 days or it does not meet the outbreak threshold. Its critical care utilisation rate should be between 30 percent and 70 percent.

On Wednesday, the DoH reported 380 new cases, pushing the national tally to 15,049. Metro Manila still accounted for the majority of the new cases, 254. Testing done on thousands of migrant workers yielded 34 positive results.

The number of recovered patients climbed to 3,506 with the recovery of 94 more patients. The death toll, however, increased to 904 as 18 patients succumbed to Covid-19, the severe respiratory disease caused by the new coronavirus.

There are now 2,437 health-care workers who have contracted the virus. Of these, 1,193 have recovered while 31 have died.

To augment the health-care workforce, the DoH launched an emergency hiring programme, which to date has already deployed 2,730 front-line workers to 204 hospitals and quarantines across the country.

Vergeire said the DoH was also looking for around 95,000 contact tracers to meet the standard of one contact tracer for every 800 suspected virus carriers.

So far, there are only some 38,000 contact tracers around the country.

Vergeire also clarified that the DoH would continue using hydroxychloroquine in treating Covid-19 patients, but only for those already taking the malaria drug.

She said patients enrolled in the “Solidarity” trial of possible treatments for Covid-19 initiated by the World Health Organisation (WHO) would finish their doses under doctor supervision.

Patients who have yet to be given hydroxychloroquine will no longer be given the drug, she said.

Vergeire said the decision was based on the recommendation of the WHO expert group overseeing the drug trial in the country.

On Monday, the WHO said it would temporarily halt the use of hydroxychloroquine in the trial after a new study published in the British medical journal The Lancet claimed the drug posed a greater risk of death for Covid-19 patients.