WHO closely monitoring PH as COVID-19 infections rise amid eased lockdowns

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A passenger boards a modern jeepney plying the Roces-Cubao route as another registers at the jeepney terminal in Roces corner Panay Avenue on Monday. Passengers are required to register before boarding the jeepney as part of safety protocols against the spread of COVID-19 in Metro Manila. Mark Demayo, ABS-CBN News

MANILA — The World Health Organization (WHO) on Wednesday said the coming few weeks would be crucial for the Philippines as the body observed an increase in COVID-19 cases and hospital occupancy amid eased quarantine restrictions. 

Dr. Takeshi Kasai, WHO regional director for the Western Pacific, told ABS-CBN News during a joint virtual briefing with the World Economic Forum that while they recognize the Philippine government’s hard work in responding to the COVID-19 pandemic, the numbers show continuing infections.

“In fact, the Philippines is one of the earliest countries to introduce a lockdown,” he said, adding that the lockdown had prevented further infections and even death.

Luzon, including virus hotspot Metro Manila, along with other high-risk areas, were under strict lockdown for over two months, from mid-March until the end of May. 

“Unfortunately, the data shows that there [are] ongoing infections,” he said. 

“And after gradually easing the lockdown, we [are] also carefully monitoring the data and then we are seeing… for example, the number of hospitals occupancy started going up,” he added.

The Philippines’ main metropolitan area, the National Capital Region (NCR), and other areas eased restrictions on June 1 as they were placed under general community quarantine to reopen the economy shuttered for weeks by the strict lockdown. 

The country has also seen a rising number of COVID-19 cases in Cebu island, although the Department of Health has said Metro Manila remains the epicenter of the outbreak.

New cases reported daily mostly come from NCR and Region 7, which includes Cebu City and Cebu province — both identified as emerging COVID-19 hotspots.

On Tuesday, President Rodrigo Duterte said that NCR would remain under GCQ while Cebu City will still be under enhanced community quarantine, the strictest lockdown level.

The Philippine government earlier expressed displeasure over reports that the country seemed to have the fastest rising number of COVID-19 cases in the region, based on the WHO Western Pacific data.

Kasai did not directly answer the question on how the Philippines is faring compared to other countries.

Instead, he said, “I think it’s going to be a very important few weeks from now on.”

At the start of the media briefing, Kasai said, ”Infections are accelerating in many parts of the world. But in our region, most countries are seeing case numbers stabilize or decline. Some have had no new infections over a month and most Pacific islands have yet to report a single case.”

In the latest WHO Western Pacific weekly report, the Philippines recorded the most number of new COVID-19 cases with the fastest 7-day moving average with 5,044 additional cases. 

Behind is Singapore with only 1,463 cases. Vietnam, which has roughly the same population as the Philippines, only had 14 new cases.

Kasai commended Filipinos for “doing their part to comply with this lockdown” despite their need to go back to work.

“The Philippine government, like many other governments, they continue to improve the response,” he said, before enumerating WHO’s recommendations.

Among the measures he recommended is the strengthening of public health systems such as early contact tracing, and consistent reminders for people to wear face masks, and observe physical distancing and proper hygiene.

“These are actions not just to protect yourself but your family, your colleagues, your friends and also the vulnerable, including the health care worker in the community,” he said.

“Thirdly, we want the government to continue to improve the surveillance system,” Kasai said. “Identify where exactly infections are occurring and communicate them to the people so people can make informed decisions.”

He said the WHO staff continues to work closely with the government as it battles the pandemic.

While Kasai said that the number of cases in the region is stabilizing, the pandemic “is now hitting lower resource countries with fragile health systems that are less equipped to contain the virus.”

“There really is no room for complacency. There is still plenty of space for the virus to spread in this region,” he warned.

Source From:https://news.abs-cbn.com/news/07/01/20/who-closely-monitoring-ph-as-covid-19-infections-rise-amid-eased-lockdowns

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