The Philippines now has more cases of Covid-19 than China, where the coronavirus that causes this disease was first reported, with the Health Ministry reporting that hospitals are already “close to being overwhelmed”.
The Philippines yesterday recorded 1,874 new coronavirus infections, bringing its total to 85,486.
By comparison, according to data gathering firm Worldometer, China had a total of 84,060.
Indonesia still has the most number of infections in South-east Asia, with 104,432, and thousands more have died in the country and in China than in the Philippines.
But with the high rate of infections in the Philippines, and a government more focused on reopening the economy than slowing the spread of the virus, experts from the state-run University of the Philippines expect the country’s caseload to surge to 150,000 by the end of next month.
More than half of the country’s infections surfaced only in the past month, when most of the restrictions of a sweeping, two-month-long lockdown were eased.
Health officials said cases are spiking as more people are now going to work or making more non-essential forays outside their homes.
But critics insist that the government has failed to capitalise on gains from the lockdown to come up with a mechanism of mass testing, contact tracing and quick isolation of those with Covid-19.
President Rodrigo Duterte is said to be considering reinstating tough movement and social distancing restrictions in Metropolitan Manila.
But his economic advisers are insisting that with over three million people out of work and most small businesses folding, the way to go is to reopen the economy.
Yesterday, gyms, Internet cafes, tuition centres, pet clinics and drive-in cinemas were allowed to reopen.
Health officials are concerned that if the rate of infection remains at its current pace, the public health system will be overwhelmed.
Hospital beds for Covid-19 patients in Metro Manila are nearing full capacity, with four in five beds already occupied. Across the country, more than half of the beds for Covid-19 patients are in use.
“Nationally, our health system might soon be overwhelmed,” said Health Undersecretary Rosario Vergeire, who has also called on hospitals to set aside more beds for Covid-19 patients.
Several hospitals said last week that they had reached full capacity for these patients.
A doctor told The Straits Times that a doctors’ Viber chat group was filled with messages asking where they can have a patient admitted.
A doctor in a Metro Manila hospital recounted that he had to turn down five patients on one day.
In his annual address to the nation on Monday, Mr Duterte offered scant details about how he intends to contain the surge in Covid-19 cases.
Critics said the core of his plan seems to be to just wait for China to come up with a vaccine, and hope that the Philippines will be among the first countries to get it.
Vice-President Leni Robredo, who heads the opposition party, yesterday said in a rebuttal against Mr Duterte that instead of wishful thinking and waiting for a vaccine, “we have to start with collecting the right data”.
“From here, we can determine who and what places we should focus on for mass testing, contact tracing and support for communities and hospitals,” she said.
• Additional reporting by Dana Batnag