Philippines plans to extend lockdown as COVID cases surpass 1 million
Coronavirus infections topped one million infections in the Philippines on Monday as authorities assess whether to extend a month’s lockdown in the Manila area amid a grim spike in cases or relax it to fight a recession, unemployment and hunger.
The health ministry on Monday reported 8,929 new infections, bringing the country’s total to 1,006,428, including 16,853 deaths. The totals are the second highest in Southeast Asia after Indonesia.
The Philippines imposed its first virus lockdown in March last year, confining millions of people to their homes and shutting down public transport and most businesses. Heavy restrictions were eased later in the year, but the economy contracted another 9.6% in 2020, with unemployment and hunger at their worst in years.
Infections, however, rose again last month to some of the worst levels in Asia, prompting President Rodrigo Duterte’s administration to re-impose a lockdown in the Manila area, the country’s financial and commercial hub with more than 25 million people. Several hospitals in the metropolis have said they are overwhelmed, with new COVID-19 patients waiting in hospital aisles, ambulances and cars.
Hospital officials say many health workers have been infected or have had to take a break due to stress and fatigue.
Despite a slight drop in the number of new cases, Health Secretary Francisco Duque III has said he believes the current lockdown should be extended by a week or two. Economic officials have warned that a prolonged lockdown will increase unemployment and slow economic recovery.
“The capacity of our health system has not improved much,” Duque told DZMM radio network, adding that the shortage of intensive care units in some cities remains critical.
The Philippine Red Cross said the spike in infections has placed hospitals “under siege” and has set up field hospital tents and converted unused classrooms and buildings into quarantined patients. “We urgently need more medical volunteers,” said Senator Richard Gordon, who heads the Philippine Red Cross. “Urgent additional medical care is a matter of life and death. “
Duterte and his administration have been widely criticized for his handling of the pandemic and the slow start last month of a vaccination campaign that was hampered by supply problems, delivery delays and public reluctance.
Concerned Filipinos have set up sidewalk stalls across the country labeled “community pantry” to distribute rice, noodles, eggs, vegetables and other food items to the poor. The stalls have attracted swarms of people, raising concerns from those responsible for enforcing the lockdown.
Presidential spokesman Harry Roque tried to paint a more optimistic picture. While he acknowledged that the number of infections had skyrocketed, he stressed that most patients have recovered and that the government is taking steps to make intensive care units available to patients with serious infections.
“Let’s not focus on the total numbers. Let’s look at the numbers of almost 900,000 people who have recovered and our case fatality rate which is low compared to the world average, ”Roque said in a televised briefing. “So I don’t think that’s a negative reflection. “
Cabinet officials and medical experts are due to meet on Tuesday to recommend continuing the lockdown to Duterte, who could announce a decision on Wednesday, Roque said.
AP journalist Joeal Calupitan contributed to this report.