SE Asia virus toll rises as Philippines ramps up testing

SE Asia virus toll rises as Philippines ramps up testing

Members of the public, detained for roaming the streets without relevant passes amid the Covid-19 coronavirus pandemic, squat at a distance from one another as they are processed outside a police station at Quezon City in Manila on Tuesday. (AFP photo)
Members of the public, detained for roaming the streets without relevant passes amid the Covid-19 coronavirus pandemic, squat at a distance from one another as they are processed outside a police station at Quezon City in Manila on Tuesday. (AFP photo)

The Philippines is to ramp up coronavirus testing as the Covid-19 death toll rose across Southeast Asia, with Indonesia reporting 60 new fatalities and its highest daily increase in cases.

Indonesia 

Indonesia on Tuesday reported its biggest daily jump in coronavirus deaths with 60 new fatallities, taking the total to 459, health ministry official Achmad Yurianto said.

Yurianto confirmed 282 new coronavirus infections, taking the total in the Southeast Asian country to 4,839. A total of 426 people have recovered, he said.

More than 33,600 tests have been performed, Yurianto added. 

Malaysia

Malaysian health authorities reported 170 new coronavirus cases on Tuesday, raising the cumulative total to 4,987 as the country nears a full month in partial lockdown.

The health ministry also reported five new deaths, bringing the total fatalities to 82. 

Philippines

The Philippine health ministry on Tuesday reported 20 more deaths linked to the new coronavirus and 291 more cases.

In a bulletin, the health ministry said total infections have reached 5,223, while deaths have increased to 335. Fifty-three more patients have recovered, bringing the total to 295, it added.

The Philippines has introduced a more aggressive testing programme for the coronavirus to locate what it said could be as many as 15,000 unknown infections, despite having implemented some of Asia's strictest and earliest lockdown measures.

Authorities have targeted several phases of ramped-up testing, starting on Tuesday with 8,000 people working at or admitted to Manila hospitals that were treating patients of Covid-19, a disease that so far infected 5,223 people locally and killed 335.

Although the Philippines has Southeast Asia's highest number of coronavirus infections and nearly 40% of its known fatalities, the government believes its swift move to close borders and put half its population under home quarantine may have averted a far greater toll and a healthcare disaster.

The former military chief in charge of the national coronavirus task force said on Tuesday modelling suggested 75% of infections - or 15,000 people - had yet to be detected.

"Our strategy is Metro Manila first because this is the epicentre," Carlito Galvez said on radio. "When we test Manila, we can win this battle against Covid."

The government has been criticised for being too slow with testing but it has accelerated since the start of April due to increases in test kits and laboratory capacity. President Rodrigo Duterte on Monday approved the procurement of an additional 900,000 kits, on top of 100,000 now in use.

The number of people tested stood at 33,814 as of April 12, a tenfold increase from March 29, although still far short of the 110,000 in Vietnam, which has 265 coronavirus cases and no reported deaths.

Among its other neighbours, Indonesia is in a more precarious situation, according to health experts, who warn of more than 1.6 million infections in a best-case scenario, and intensive care units being overwhelmed, even if stronger containment measures are introduced.

Citing expert projections, Philippine Cabinet Secretary Karlo Nograles said on Tuesday the local lockdown, which started five days after confirmation of the first domestic transmission on March 7, may have prevented between 1.9 and 8.3 million coronavirus infections.

The government has stressed that it is not mass testing, but using a targeted, risk-based approach, starting with the most vulnerable and aiming for 8,000 tests daily.

It wants to test more in areas with known outbreaks, or people showing symptoms, then isolate them at new treatment centres being prepared in stadiums and conference centres until their recovery.

"This is where the quarantine facilities will come in handy, so we can unclog the already overheating health system," said task force spokesman Restituto Padilla. "We can maximise available test kits and flatten the curve."

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