During the government’s pre-SONA forum on Wednesday, July 15, Health Secretary Francisco Duque III claimed that the Philippines has “successfully flattened the curve since April” even as cases of COVID-19 in the country continue to rise.

In a clarification published by the Department of Health, the statement is based on the reported lengthening of the Case Doubling Time (CDT), or the time it takes for the number of cases to double. The CDT is a measure of how quickly an outbreak spreads. Low CDTs mean faster outbreaks, while higher CDTs mean slower outbreaks. Case doubling time is computed using historical data, and should not be used to predict the number of cases after a period of time.

The shortest CDT of less than 1 day was recorded on March 6, prior to the imposition of the ECQ. Thereafter, CDT has been gradually lengthened. By the end of April, the 3-day doubling time mark was surpassed. By May 5, the CDT was already at 4.8 days. To date, CDT is at 8.28 days, a significant improvement given the initial CDT of less than 3 days.

As a strategy, flattening the curve entails decreasing the rate at which the outbreak spreads to gain adequate time for a health system to prepare for a possible surge in cases. This means that it is not only dependent on the number of cases reported, but cases as it relates to the capacity for the system to provide care for these cases, and also considers the CDT.

Because the curve was flattening by late April, significant strides in COVID-19 response were made, particularly — increase testing capacity, enhance contact tracing efforts, establish large-scale treatment and monitoring facilities, prepare hospitals throughout the country for critical care by augmenting HRH, improve facilities and designate COVID-dedicated beds and procure mechanical ventilators and other necessary equipment. This means the enhanced community quarantine in March served its purpose – the government was able to prepare for the expected increase when the  quarantine was lifted.

Based on recent data, the Department is observing an increase in the number of cases primarily due to increased testing capacity and identified community clusters. The necessary measures are now being implemented to address, but note that the increase in cases will continue as the economy opens and more people are out of their homes.

As seen in other countries, increased mobility increases the risk of disease transmission, which is why the focus now is to ensure that the expected cases do not translate to deaths, and for severe and critical cases to remain at a manageable level so as not to fatigue facilities and healthcare workers. Emphasis should also be placed on the impact of minimum health protocols in reducing disease transmission. Lockdowns will eventually have to be lifted, but minimum public health protocols are here to stay.

The Philippines reported an additional nearly 2500 cases Friday, bringing the country total to 61,266. The National Capital Region (NCR), or Metro Manila area accounted for 1886 of these new cases.

The death toll now stands at 1643.