Residents pass by an empty coffin placed outside a public market to remind people to stay home in Manila on Sunday. AP
Coronavirus infections in the Philippines surged past 100,000 on Sunday in a troubling milestone after medical groups declared that the country was waging "a losing battle” against the virus and asked the president to reimpose a lockdown in the capital.
The Department of Health (DoH) reported a record-high daily tally of 5,032, bringing the total confirmed cases in the country to 103,185, including more than 2,000 deaths. The Philippines has the second-most cases in Southeast Asia after Indonesia, and has had more infections than China, where the pandemic began late last year.
According to the latest data of DoH, more and more Filipino frontliners, especially doctors and nurses, are getting infected in the campaign against the COVID-19 with their numbers soaring to a total of 4,823 with 38 deaths.
A man keeps his daughter cool as they wait for the government's transportation assistance to return to their outlying province in Manila. AP
After Duterte further relaxed quarantine restrictions and allowed more businesses, including gyms, internet cafes and tattoo shops, to reopen, leaders of nearly 100 medical organisations held an online news conference and warned that the health system may collapse as many medical personnel fall ill or resign out of fear, fatigue or poor working conditions.
"Our healthcare workers are sounding a distress call. We need a short breather, we are already exhausted," Dr Jose Santiago, the president of the Philippine College of Physicians (PCP) told a virtual press briefing.
Santiago said reverting Metro Manila to enhanced community quarantine (ECQ) or complete lockdown for two weeks from Aug.1 to 15 would not only help prevent transmission of the virus but also give authorities enough time to re-group and fine-tune the pandemic control measures.
"We understand," Santiago explained, "that imposing ECQ is a complex decision but we can't hold the line any longer. Don't let the health workers decide who will and who dies."
Dr Maricar Limpin, a Pulmonologist and the PCP vice president, also weighed into the issue and disclosed that many of the frontliners have been getting infected. She added that at least 38 have already died or have been at the ICU (intensive care unit) in the hospitals.
The medical groups also pleaded for the president to reimpose a lockdown in Manila from Aug. 1 to 15 to give health workers "a time out” and allow the government to recalibrate its response to the monthslong pandemic.
"We are waging a losing battle against COVID-19 and we need to draw up a consolidated, definitive plan of action,” said the groups, which represent more than a million nurses, doctors and other medical personnel.
The groups said the gradual easing of coronavirus restrictions "has inadvertently fueled public misperception that the pandemic is getting better. It is not.”
They expressed fears to Duterte that the Philippine coronavirus crisis may worsen like in the US "The progressive decline in compliance will push us to the brink to become the next New York City, where COVID-19 patients die at home or in stretchers, unable to find vacancies.”
"We will not be able to cope with this continued daily rise in COVID cases. We don't want to give up We are just asking for a timeout of two weeks to control the spread of the infections," Limpin stressed.
Duterte immediately reacted and ordered members of the Inter-Agency Task Force (IATF) for the Management of Infectious Diseases to meet on Monday with the representatives of the medical community to discuss the issue.
More than 50,000 infections were reported in less than four weeks and leading hospitals began warning that their coronavirus wards were fast being overwhelmed to capacity again, as they were when cases soared alarmingly in April.
Leaders of the Philippines' dominant Roman Catholic church immediately heeded the medical community’s call, saying they will return to lockdown-like restrictions by temporarily stopping actual church services in Manila and shift all Masses back online.
"It seems that the current responses are not working because the cases are rising,” Bishop Broderick Pabillo said.
Cabinet members have met with medical industry leaders and were to meet with Duterte on Sunday to decide on a response, presidential spokesman Harry Roque said.
A leading source of global labour, the Philippines, like Indonesia, has additionally been battered after hundreds of thousands of Filipinos, including cruise ship crews, lost their jobs worldwide due to the pandemic then scrambled to head home.
The government has helped bring home more than 115,000 Filipinos from across the world since February and another 100,000 need to be repatriated in the next two months in the largest such pandemic-sparked homecoming in Philippine history, according to the Department of Foreign Affairs.
In terms of fatalities, India is the most affected country with nearly three-quarters of total deaths in the region – 67,376 deaths from 3,853,406 cases.
"I had earlier warned cases of COVID-19 might exceed 1.2 million by the end of July. However, as a result of precautionary measures followed by people and the administration, the tally of cases may be less than 400,000,” Minister for Planning and Development Asad Umar said at a presser.
"It will be very premature and I think unrealistic to think that we're going to finish with this virus by the end of the year," Ryan told journalists. "But I think what we can finish with, if we're smart, is the hospitalisations, the deaths and the tragedy associated with this pandemic."
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