POSTSCRIPT / July 2, 2020 / Thursday


Philippine STAR Columnist

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We top C-19 deaths per 1-M population

THE Philippines was in the limelight this week after being described in a press report as having the fastest-growing number of Covid-19 infections among the countries and territories in the Western Pacific Region of the World Health Organization.

Malacañang took exception to the dubious description before Rabindra Abeyasinghe, the WHO representative, clarified that the assessment was made not by the world body but by a journalist in his analysis of statistics that WHO had given out.

The WHO representative said the Philippines’ early lockdowns had in fact helped slow down the local spread of the disease. He stressed, however, the need for the country to improve its contact tracing as he noted the increase in the number of cases in some areas in the Visayas.

While the Department of Health has laid down good guidelines in fighting Covid-19, Abeyasinghe said, poor compliance by the local governments has led to a rise in cases.

Before that, presidential spokesman Harry Roque said the Philippines should not be compared with the island-state of Singapore which has a population of only 5,850,000 or about half of that of Metro Manila. He said mass testing in a bigger population naturally turns up more cases.

The health department agreed that any comparison should consider such elements as population, living conditions, and health system capacity.

Such reasoning recalls a similar point made by President Trump while explaining the United States (population: 330,991,690) topping the global Covid-19 scorecard (showing the US with 2,727,398 cases and 130,111 deaths yesterday, as published in the worldOmeter webpage).

In Tulsa, Oklahoma, where he kicked off his reelection campaign on June 20, Trump said: “Testing is a double-edged sword… When you do (more) testing, you’re going to find… more cases. So I said to my people, slow the testing down please….

“We have more cases than anybody in the world. But why? Because we do more testing. When you test, you have a case. When you test, you find something is wrong with people. If we didn’t do any testing, we would have very few cases.” (US tests totaled 34,196,892 as of yesterday).

For that remark, Trump was ridiculed in media. It did not matter to his critics that he may have been just sarcastic because what he said appeared valid — that the more people you test, the more cases you are likely to discover.

On Malacañang’s point that a country with a much larger population doing mass testing is likely to turn up more cases, we checked the population sizes of the “over 20 countries and territories” in the Western Pacific.

Google said: “The Western Pacific Region covers a wide mix of countries in the Pacific, Oceania and parts of Asia. With a population of more than 1.7 billion people, the region stretches over a vast area, from China and Mongolia in the north, to New Zealand in the south.

“The countries and areas in the Western Pacific Region include American Samoa, Australia, Brunei Darussalam, Cambodia, China, Cook Islands, Fiji, French Polynesia, Guam, Hong Kong, Japan, Kiribati, the Republic of Korea, the Lao People’s Democratic Republic, Macao, Malaysia, the Marshall.”

Finding that background unwieldy and with disagreements on what the Western Pacific is, we decided to focus on our immediate neighborhood and extracted Covid-19 data from the daily worldOmeter status report on the 10 members of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations.

For a fair comparison of Covid-19 figures in ASEAN, we made as a common basis the data per one million population. That leveling up should make Roque happy and muffle his complaint that population sizes do distort.

As data keep moving with the daily updating, we froze the frame on June 29 figures on the ASEAN members. That day, the Philippines (with 36,438 total cases) ranked third after Indonesia (55,092) and Singapore (43,661). Malaysia (8,637) was fourth and Thailand (3,169) fifth.

But with “cases-per-one-million-population” as basis, the Philippines jumped to No. 2 with the five top ASEAN members’ ranking rearranged: (1) Singapore, 7,463 cases; (2) Philippines, 333; (3) Malaysia, 267; (4) Indonesia, 201; and (5) Thailand, 45.

A review of the week’s daily report also showed that all but two of the 10 ASEAN members have maintained zero new deaths. The only two exceptions are Indonesia (+51 new deaths) and the Philippines (+11).

Using “per one-million-population” as basis, the Philippines topped in total deaths in the June 29 table: (1) Philippines, 11 deaths; (2) Indonesia, 10; (3) Brunei, 7; (4-5) Singapore, 4; (4-5) Malaysia, 4; (6) Thailand, 0.8; (7) Myanmar, 0.1; (8-9-10) Vietnam, 0; Cambodia, 0; and Lao PDR, 0.

We have not heard of a good data-based explanation for the rise in the number of local coronavirus infection last week. Was it due to the stepped-up mass testing, the relaxation or disregard of quarantine rules, or the return home of provincial folk who had turned out to be carriers?

The spike in reported positive Covid-19 cases could be the result of a combination of those and other factors in varying degrees. An analysis by the health department and research groups would help.

Meanwhile, the infection breakouts in Cebu City and environs, which President Duterte blamed on what he said was the residents’ being hardheaded in following quarantine guidelines, have triggered a markedly militarized enforcement of lockdown rules.

In his weekly report, the President said Cebu will stay locked up in the enhanced quarantine being enforced by a contingent led by Gen. Roy Cimatu, his troubleshooter in situations that require speed, precision and adherence to his orders.

Metro Manila stays as a general quarantine area that may see further loosening up if no infection spikes develop in the coming weeks. The national capital region and Calabarzon are the economic dynamos where some 65 percent of the economy is based.

(First published in the Philippine STAR of July 2, 2020)

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