April 8 ------ An official of the World Health Organization (WHO) on Wednesday expressed concern over the renewed surge in COVID-19 cases in the Philippines. WHO Western Pacific regional director Takeshi Kasai said the country should avoid crossing the “red line,” a situation where the number of cases exceeds the healthcare capacity. “Once we cross that red line, we put healthcare workers in a very difficult situation. Once healthcare workers start getting [infected], the healthcare capacity goes down and ironically that’s the time more and more people need some help,” Kasai said in an online press conference.
“We are concerned about the situation in the Philippines. We’re concerned because the surge is really continuing and moving towards the so-called red line.” The Philippines has so far reported 819,164 COVID-19 cases, including 14,059 deaths. The Philippine government had placed Metro Manila and nearby provinces of Bulacan, Cavite, Laguna, and Rizal under an enhanced community quarantine (ECQ), which is the strictest form of lockdown, from March 29 to April 4 to as the country struggles to contain one of Southeast Asia’s worst virus outbreaks.
The ECQ was later extended to April 11. Other countries had also experienced a spike in infections, which the WHO attributed to more transmissible variants, lack of compliance to health protocols, increased mobility, and vaccine optimism. “We can anticipate that there will be more of these surges. The virus is still circulating, and we simply cannot let down our guard; not yet,” Kasai said.
Kasai urged the public to continue observing basic prevention measures such as mask-wearing, hand-washing, and maintaining physical distance. He also governments to ensure strong systems for surveillance and early detection of cases, and implement targeted, localized response. “Targeted responses reduce the risk of broader community transmission, and minimize economic and social disruption,” he said.
All countries should also strengthen their surveillance and healthcare capacity as well as public health systems to prepare for possible large-scale community transmission, Kasai said. He also recommended the effective use of vaccines. “Vaccines offer us all great hope, but for now they are in relatively short supply,” the WHO official said. “It is vital that these limited doses currently available are given to those who are most at risk of infection, starting with health workers, and then other vulnerable groups at higher risk of severe disease, such as old people and those with underlying conditions. And we must ensure this happens in all countries as quickly as possible.”
More than 800,000 Filipinos have already received a COVID-19 vaccine since the mass immunization program started on March 1, according to government data.