DOH: 'Artificial rise' in COVID-19 cases due to OFW test results

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Metro Manila (CNN Philippines, May 27) —The sudden spike in the number of new COVID-19 cases is just an "artificial rise," the Department of Health said Wednesday.

Health Undersecretary Maria Rosario Vergeire said that new infections reached 350 on Tuesday, the highest one-day rise since April 6, because they included results from the swab tests on overseas Filipino workers who just returned to the country.

“'Pag sinabi nating 350,these are not all OFWs. Yung kaso natin kahapon meron hong halo na OFWs kasi sabi natin nakakadagdag sila sa bilang ng kaso,” Vergeire said at the Kapihan sa Manila Bay forum.

[Translation: When we say 350, these are not all OFWs. Our cases yesterday had OFWs and they added to the number of cases.]

Most of the new cases are still from the National Capital Region.

“We are still at a good number. As a matter of fact, kahit na umakyat tayo ng kahit na kaunti pa, hindi pa ‘yan ganyan kadami na kaso sa loob ng isang araw,” said Infectious Diseases Expert Dr. Benjamin Co.

[Translation: We are still at a good number. As a matter of fact, even if we go up a notch, it is still not a very big number of cases per day.]

Co said his assessment is based on data from the World Health Organization and the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control in an interview with CNN Philippines on Wednesday night.

By end of April, the government said the epidemic curve in the Philippines has already been flattening, with an average of 220 new cases daily for over a month.

Vergeire said the Philippines may still see an artificial rise in the coming days as more coronavirus test results of OFWs come in.

However, she said this does not affect the current flattening of the COVID-19 epidemic curve.

“Ang tinitingan natin ay ang case doubling time at saka numero ng kaso (We're looking at case doubling time and number of cases)," Vergeire said.

“Kung halimbawa ay three of four days na dagdag because pumapasok ang sa OFW, pagkatapos po nun mawawala rin, 'di masusustain kung ito ang nagbibigay ng pagtaas," she added.

[Translation: If, for example, there's an increase for three or four days because OFW test results are coming in, it would not be sustained if this is causing the rise in cases.]

The health department has yet to provide the number of OFWs who tested positive for COVID-19. Returning OFWs are required to undergo a 14-day quarantine period so they can be cleared of coronavirus infection before being transported to their homes.

READ: 9,000 OFWs transported home, more charter flights mounted— OWWA

Meanwhile, Co echoed the DOH, saying that the rise in the number of confirmed coronavirus cases can be traced from the backlogs of laboratories.

He said that the numbers tend to fluctuate when the delayed test results get mixed with the current numbers.

“Ang tingin ko, marami din tayong mga backlog sa mga testing results that have not really all come in.”

[Translation: I think, we have a lot of backlogs when it comes to testing results

Co added that laboratories do not have the same capacity in terms of turning over results, mostly due to sheer volume of tests being conducted and processed.

When it comes to easing the quarantine protocols in Metro Manila and downgrading to a general community quarantine, the medical expert said that it is for the good of everybody.

“At the moment, I don’t think we should worry a lot. To me, the numbers are steady, which means we’re really ready to go to general community quarantine. It’s also for the good of everybody,” Co said.

CNN Philippines' Eimor Santos contributed to this report.