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Philippines defends COVID-19 response after soaring cases

Philippines defends COVID-19 response after soaring cases

Cyclists bike on a pavement as traffic builds up on the first day of the government's reimplementation of a stricter lockdown to curb COVID-19 infections, in Marikina City, Metro Manila, Philippines, Aug 4, 2020. (Photo: REUTERS/Eloisa Lopez)

MANILA: The Philippines has seen a jump in coronavirus infections due to intensified testing, the presidential spokesman said on Friday (Aug 7), defending the country's response to the pandemic after overtaking Indonesia to record the most cases in Southeast Asia.

Infections have surged nearly seven-fold to more than 122,000, while deaths have more than doubled since a strict lockdown was lifted in June. It prompted authorities to reimpose a lockdown in and around Manila earlier this week.

"While we do not want to see these numbers, this is a result of our intensified testing," Harry Roque, spokesman of President Rodrigo Duterte, told a briefing.

"This means we know where our enemy COVID is," Roque said, adding that it allowed health authorities to properly trace, isolate and treat patients.

The Philippines' health ministry on Friday reported 3,379 additional coronavirus cases, bringing the country's total number of confirmed infections to 122,754.

In a bulletin, the ministry said deaths had increased by 24 to 2,168. 

Eighty medical groups representing more than a million Philippine doctors and nurses warned last week of a collapse of the healthcare system without tighter controls and called for more testing and tracing.

Nearly 1.6 million people have been tested in the country, although this is less than 2 per cent of its 107 million population. The Philippines has said it plans to test 10 million people by the second quarter of 2021.

There are now 100 testing laboratories in the Philippines, up from just one in February.

The Philippines is ahead of Indonesia, which has tested 951,910 of its nearly 270 million people, though well below the per capita testing in neighbours such as Singapore and Malaysia.

READ: Philippine economy dives into recession in worst slump on record

The government has placed metro Manila and nearby provinces such as Laguna, Cavite, Rizal and Bulacan under so-called "Modified Enhanced Community Quarantine" until Aug 18.

In a new blow for the economy as well, some businesses have been ordered shut and movement is restricted again in the region, which accounts for a quarter of the country's population and most of its economic activity.

Hair salons, cinemas and gyms have closed, while restaurants are only allowed to do take-outs. Some businesses are allowed to operate but at a limited capacity.

With economic activity hammered by COVID-19 lockdowns, the Philippine economy plunged in the second quarter of 2020, falling into recession for the first time in 29 years.

The economy shrank by 16.5 per cent in the April to June quarter from the same period last year – the biggest slump in the government's quarterly gross domestic product data dating back to 1981, said the Philippine Statistics Authority on Thursday.

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Source: Reuters/aa


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