MANILA (Reuters) – The Philippines has seen a jump in coronavirus infections due to intensified testing, the presidential spokesman said on Friday, 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.
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, though this is less than 2% 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.
The Philippines’ health ministry on Friday reported 3,379 additional cases, bringing the total of confirmed infections to 122,754. Deaths rose by 24 to 2,168.
The country now has the highest case load in eastern Asia including China, dismaying many Filipinos.
“There’s still no mass testing up to now. I think that is the solution and the only way to bring down the cases of COVID-19 in the country,” said Ronald Rueda, a motocycle-riding courier in Manila.
(Reporting by Neil Jerome Morales and Adrian Portugal)