The government announced plans for a “circuit breaker” lockdown plan in the next two weeks as a desperate measure to stop the spread of the COVID-19 pandemic.
This, as the Philippines hit all-time highs in the number of new cases over the weekend, with 7,104 infections recorded on March 19 then with 7,999 infections on March 20.
The circuit breaker also known as fire-break lockdown is similar to the one imposed by Singapore, Germany, and Australia, among others. It calls for an ultra-strict lockdown for a fixed period of time, from 18 days to a month, at most.
The government reimposed stricter restrictions on businesses and mobility of citizens, especially in Metro Manila late last week and lasting until April 4.
The new restrictions are similar in scope to the general community quarantine, or GCQ, imposed before February. Meetings and religious gatherings are only allowed 30 percent capacity, while restaurants, cafes, and personal care services are allowed 50 percent capacity.
The Duterte administration contradicted itself when Malacañang said the skyrocketing of new COVID-19 cases was not due to the reopening of the economy. Health Sec. Francisco Duque, however, said the rushed reopening was a contributing factor to the new cases.
Dr. Edcel Maurice Salvana said the situation will get worse before it gets any better, with “the numbers for the next one to two weeks…may still go higher.”
The Philippine General Hospital-based Salvana, already being compared to the US’s Dr. Anthony Fauci, said last week’s infections had already occurred between one to two weeks ago, before the government opted to return to the tightest possible lockdown.
The exponential growth of viruses, Salvana said, means “one person infects two, two people infect four, four people infect eight, and so on.”
Dr. Benjamin Campomanes, chief medical officer at St. Luke’s Medical Center, has a worse take, estimating that the exponential infection rate is closer to three for every new infected person.
He also raised the possibility that people were getting infected at the place they believed to be safe – hospitals.
“It’s not farfetched for a dreaded hospital transmission to occur,” he said.
Campomanes also said that “there are a lot of asymptomatic people going around that have no idea they are passing it on.”
An additional problem is that it is not clear if the new round of infections is the original COVID-19 or if they are any of the recently-discovered variants, which are deemed to infect at a faster albeit less deadly pace.
As such, the current interventions of the government will not be felt until one to two weeks from now.
Unfortunately, there’s worse news. Due to the current surge in coronavirus cases, at least 29 hospitals in Metro Manila have already reached “critical” level in terms of available bed space for patients since the weekend.
Most hospitals peg the critical level at 80 percent occupancy. While this means that there is still 20 percent available bed space, most hospitals do not have the manpower to care for 100 percent occupancy. At 80 percent, their resources are strained to the limit.
University of the Philippines-based think tank OCTA Research warned that the serious surge would continue, after last week’s totals were 78 percent higher than the previous week.
Without the strict regulations within the metropolis, OCTA said new cases could zoom to 16,000 new cases daily by the early part of April.
Meanwhile, an organization of nurses calling itself Filipino Nurses United, joined the calls for the resignation of Health Sec. Duque. In a public statement, they said Duque had to resign “for the betterment of our health.”