Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte eased COVID-19 restrictions in the capital region starting on Saturday to try to spur economic activity, even as the country reported another record-breaking number of cases setting off apprehension among its overstretched healthcare workers.
The health department confirmed on Friday a total of 17,231 new cases, the highest daily number of infections since the pandemic began last year, with 317 new fatalities, also the highest daily death toll in four months.
Deaths reached more 1.8 percent of total cases, bringing the August average to 1.5 percent, versus 1.9 percent in July.
With more than 1.8 million cases and 31,198 deaths, the Philippines has one of the highest coronavirus tolls in Asia.
The health ministry urged more people to identify infections sooner and get vaccinated to boost protection.
“Early consultation and testing would help to cut infections in homes, communities, and workplaces,” it said in a statement.
More than 26 percent of samples taken tested positive, the country’s highest positivity rate so far, while active cases hit 123,251, a four-month record.
Hospitals filling up
Hospitals were filling up, with 73 percent of the country’s intensive care capacity already utilised and 61 percent of isolation beds occupied, government data showed.
Duterte had earlier approved the relaxation of coronavirus curbs in Metro Manila – a metropolis of 16 cities and home to more than 13 million people – to allow more businesses to resume operations.
The Philippines, which has one of Southeast Asia’s worst coronavirus epidemic and longest-running lockdown, is trying to spur activity in an economy that contracted a record 9.5 percent last year.
“We had less passengers, we were only allowed 50 percent capacity, we had a really hard time in our trips since what we earned was just enough for our everyday meals,” said Reynaldo Escanilla, who drives a jeepney passenger truck.
BREAKDOWN of the 17,231 cases (DOH data):
NCR = 4,658 (highest since Apr 18)
R4A = 3,707 (highest ever)
R3 = 2,123 (highest ever)
R7 = 1,311 (2nd highest ever)
R2 = 832 (3rd highest ever)
R10 = 831 (4th highest ever)
R1 = 641 (5th highest ever)
A battle on multiple fronts 📢 https://t.co/1hYVC85o0J
— Edson C. Guido (@EdsonCGuido) August 20, 2021
After the Chinese city of Wuhan, where COVID-19 was first detected, the Philippines was one of the first places in the world to go into lockdown last year, after the country reported its first COVID-19 death in the world.
Manila Barber Joel Carino is eager to get back to normal life.
“Ever since the start of lockdown we felt hunger. I’m not in favour of it since a lot of Filipinos are struggling. There are no jobs given most establishments are closed,” he said.
But with a long way to go with vaccinations and record highs for daily infections, active case numbers and the positivity rate, the virus problems are far from over in the Philippines, hurting its poorest the most.
“A lot are feeling the weight especially in businesses similar to ours. We have no sales, there are no people,” said restaurant manager Ely Cundangan.
“There are some who buy but very few. How are we supposed to live?”
Meanwhile, healthcare workers and experts have raised concerns about the premature lifting of COVID-19 restrictions amid the surge of the Delta variant.
“We might be suffering the consequences of that wrong decision, because the fundamental principle in slowing down the virus is basically a tighter quarantine,” Dr Tony Leachon, former health adviser of Duterte, was quoted as saying in an interview.
“It’s worrisome to ease [restrictions] because we could lose lives and overwhelm the healthcare system. I’m afraid of that because the virus is highly transmissible,” he told a local television station.