Community transmission of COVID-19 likely to happen soon – DOH

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Metro Manila (CNN Philippines, March 11) – A community-level transmission of COVID-19 is likely to happen in a short span of time, which could prompt a lockdown in certain communities and a shift to a higher Code Red level, Health Secretary Francisco Duque III said Wednesday.

"What we have now is localized transmission in the areas we have earlier mentioned. But the situation can very quickly progress into a community transmission, which means, there could be a larger area of affected communities," Duque bared during the hearing of the House Committee on Health led by Quezon Rep. Angelina Tan.

"I have said time and again that it's going to be a very real occurrence over the very short term," he added.

The World Health Organization said community transmission happens when countries are already experiencing "larger outbreaks of local transmission" of the disease caused by SARS CoV-2, also known as novel coronavirus.

The Philippines is currently under a state of public health emergency after it was placed under Code Red sublevel 1 over the weekend, indicating at least one local transmission reported. It will be raised to sublevel 2 when there are several community transmissions beyond capacity. Schools and work may also be suspended under this alert level.

"When evidence points to community transmission, we will resort first to a localized lockdown, rather than the whole NCR locking down. We have to be careful on the implications of imposing a metro-wide lockdown," Duque said.

'Travel ban delayed virus transmission'

Meanwhile, Duque maintained that the government's imposition of a travel ban on mainland China, Hong Kong, and Macau helped delay the transmission of the virus, despite criticisms about the Department of Health's reporting of cases.

"Isa tayo sa mga bansa na nagtalaga ng (We were among the countries that imposed) absolute travel ban on persons and nationals coming from China and its special administrative regions, Hong Kong and Macau," Duque said.

"Naniniwala po ang Inter-Agency Task Force na itong hakbang na ito ang siyang nakapag-delay (The Inter-Agency Task Force believes that this move helped delay) by a month the entry of the COVID virus in local communities," the Health Secretary added.

Duque said that while there may have been a problem with the agency's reporting system, "there was no deliberate intention" to keep from the public necessary information about the issue.

Meanwhile, WHO representative Rabi Abeyasinghe reiterated his warning to limit travels during this period.

"The Filipino population travels a lot so we need to be aware that the virus can be taken by context to other places," warned Abeyasinghe.

Abeyasinghe noted, however, that while it still cannot be confirmed whether there are more cases outside Metro Manila which have not been reported, what the Philippines has right now is still considered a "localized outbreak."

To date, 49 COVID-19 cases have been reported, with patients admitted in hospitals mostly in Metro Manila. The other three are the Chinese visitors who earlier tested positive for the virus in the Philippines – one of them died, while the remaining two have since recovered and left the country.