The Straits Times/Asia News Network
The Philippines has adjusted its COVID-19 data to reflect a higher number of people dying than previously reported.
Health officials reported 162 deaths on Monday, a spike from a daily average of about 10 in previous days. That raised the total to 1,534 deaths since February.
But they explained this was due to better record-keeping.
Most were recorded from the previous three months, but landed on the Health Ministry’s official tally only on Sunday following a recent “harmonization” of data, they said.
“We expect more deaths to be reported in the coming days as a result of our data reconciliation efforts,” Health Undersecretary Maria Rosario Vergeire told reporters on Monday.
She assured people, though, that the situation, while worrying, was still manageable, as latest reports showed there were still fewer people dying from the coronavirus in recent weeks.
“We wish to clarify: It doesn’t mean that the 162 deaths we tallied yesterday [July 12] meant 162 people died only yesterday,” she said.
Dr Vergeire explained that the surge was due to late submissions from local governments.
She reported that out of the 162 deaths reported on Monday, only 51 occurred this month, and 18 were from the past week.
Ninety deaths were recorded in June, while 20 came from May, and just one from April.
“We are still on a downward trend,” said Dr Vergeire.
She said most of those who died last month and in recent weeks had been in Cebu City, which saw a wave of infections that rivaled those in the capital region in the latter half of June. Cebu had since been on lockdown.
Of the 162 deaths reported on Monday, 99 were in Cebu. Metropolitan Manila accounted for 37 deaths.
Still, the number of new infections continued to hover around 2,000 each day.
On Monday, the Health Ministry reported 2,124 new COVID-19 cases. The Philippines now has 56,259 total cases, the highest in South-east Asia after Indonesia.
“Should we be worried? Yes. One too many deaths is a concern,” said Dr Vergeire.
She reiterated that while the higher numbers were simply in line with better record-keeping, the situation could quickly spiral out of control if the public continues to flout social distancing guidelines and other basic health requirements such as wearing masks and avoiding large gatherings.
“No amount of medical intervention will work. The solution lies in us,” she said.
Health officials have said cases are rising because more people are out and about, with the lockdown now lifted.
Mr Duterte lifted a three-month lockdown on June 1. Since then, the government has allowed offices, factories, logistics hubs, malls, restaurants, salons, sports facilities and churches to reopen.
Buses, trains, jeepneys, motorized rickshaws, taxis and ride-sharing vehicles are back on the road.
Experts from the state-run University of the Philippines said the number could hit 60,000 by the end of this month.
“It could even hit 70,000,” Professor Guido David told radio station DZBB. At that rate, he said, cases could leap to 100,000 by end-August.