Despite Top 20 rank, PH among nations with decreasing COVID-19 cases – experts

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Metro Manila (CNN Philippines, October 2) — The Philippines is now part of the top 20 nations with the most number of COVID- 19 infections. But for the Department of Health and local medical researchers, this does not necessarily mean the country is lacking in its coronavirus pandemic response.

The Philippines on Thursday night reached a grim turning point in its COVID-19 fight. It surpassed Pakistan, which held the 20th spot for weeks. According to data from Johns Hopkins University, the country has a total of 314,079 COVID-19 infections while Pakistan has 313,431. The Philippines is also inching closer to surpassing the numbers of Italy, the country that was once the epicenter of the virus in Europe.

Health Undersecretary Maria Rosario Vergeire and the OCTA Research Team on Friday acknowledged the country's unfortunate inclusion in the list. Vergeire said the high number of cases is still due to the continuing community transmission and expanded testing efforts.

Despite the bleak news, OCTA Research fellow and University of the Philippines Professor Ranjit Rye said the Philippines is among those in the list with decreasing number of newly-recorded cases. He said that for their team, the trend of cases is more important than the cumulative number of infections because it reflects if ongoing measures are effective.

"Kapag tiningnan mo yung Top 20, kakaunti lang ang bansa na yung trend ay pababa, isa na ang Pilipinas doon... Ang trend sa Pilipinas pababa na almost a month," he said in an interview with CNN Philippines on Friday.

[Translation: When you look at the countries in the Top 20, only a few have a downtrend in cases. In the Philippines, the trend has been going down for almost a month.]

He noted that the reproduction number — or the indicator of how fast the virus is spreading — continues to go down every week based on their studies. He said this could mean a slower increase in cases. From averaging 4,000 new cases daily last week, Rye said the weekly average is now down to over 2,000 infections daily. He also noted the "dramatic" decrease in the cases in Metro Manila, which is the epicenter of the coronavirus in the country.

The professor said the challenge now is how to sustain the improvements. He urged the government to further improve its testing, tracing, and treatment efforts. He also said local governments can play a bigger role in monitoring their communities.

"Makikita natin 'yung kolektibo nating ginagawa merong nararating at yung downward trend, nandoon na po," Rye said. "Kailangan lang ho mag sikap pa tayo, maging mas maingat at mas maagap. Mabababa pa po ito."

[Translation: We can see that the collective efforts are working. We are already on the downward trend. We need to work harder. We can bring it down further.]

Vergeire also said the healthcare system in the country can better manage the COVID-19 cases now.

"We might be in the Top 20 among all of the countries in the world in the number of cases, but when we look at our health systems capacity, it has improved tremendously. Nakita natin noon na talagang hirap na hirap tayo just to accommodate patients [Before, we struggled to accommodate patients]," she said in a separate media forum.

Rye stressed the need for additional healthcare workers, not just focusing on increasing hospital, bed, and critical care capacity.

"'Yung mga ospital natin ngayon 50, 60 percent capacity. Yesterday below 70 pero puno pa rin siya. Hirap pa rin 'yung mga healthcare workers natin, hirap pa rin yung ating mga ospital at the moment. So kailangan tayo magtulungan," he said.

[Translation: Hospitals are still at 50 to 60 percent capacity. Yesterday it was under 70, but it's still full. Healthcare workers and hospitals are still struggling. We need to work together.]

Rye warned of a surge in cases around Christmas if the public gets complacent with the current downward trend.

"Kahit na pababa pong trend na ito, it's not reversible na po kung magpapabaya tayo, tataas po tayo Christmas," he said.

[Translation: Even if the trend is going down, once we let down our guard, we'll see a surge in Christmas.]