There’s a palpable sense of panic engulfing the Metro. Or at least panic amongst the political ruling class. The reason is the increase in COVID-19 cases the past few weeks, leading to (at this time of writing) exactly 86,200 active cases.
Spurred on by a gleeful media, cinemas and museums were predictably ordered closed, curfews reinstituted, restaurants were ordered to provide mainly take-out services and accept outdoor dining but only at 50% capacity, and — more predictably — prohibited public masses and stringently limited other religious services. Yet, behind it all, certain facts need further examining.
One fact worth revisiting is the obvious one: total cases, which will never go down. And with the coronavirus here to stay, the numbers will just keep going up until the end of the world. Why liberal media keeps harping on that number is truly baffling.
Another is, while keeping a tab on active cases is helpful, it’s still secondary to the truly important number which is hospital occupancy. At the moment, despite a nearly 200% rise in active cases from just a few weeks ago, our national hospital rate is holding at 40.9%, with ICU’s at 52.7%.
And this should be noted: severe or critical cases, which the Department of Health (DoH) itself stated as the ones in actual need of hospital care, remain at 1.8%. This means that of our total active cases, just around 1,552 are in need to be admitted to the hospital. But even assuming all of those severe or critical cases are located in the National Capital Region, the NCR has a total of 8,231 COVID-19 designated hospital beds, with 738 of those ICU beds. And indeed, the DoH data shows that only 57.9% (as of March 21) of such NCR beds are occupied (with ICUs at 73.86%).
The other important number is deaths. And the DoH tracker site itself shows a downward trend in the number of COVID-19 deaths, actually a fall of 90% from a high in August 2020 to the week of March 11-17, 2021.
Then there is the recently released data from the Philippine Statistics Authority (PSA): the period between January to December 2020 saw 575,875 total deaths. The leading cause of which are heart disease, cancer, and diabetes. Surprisingly, 2020 saw 2% less total deaths than the 2015-2019 average. As for COVID-19, we need refer first to PSA’s Explanatory Note: “COVID-19 deaths in this release refer to both confirmed and probable cases as of registration, whereas figures released by DoH were deaths from confirmed cases only. Coding of causes of death is based on the International Statistical Classification … governed by the World Health Organization.” Thus, confirmed cases are those which were “confirmed by a laboratory test,” while those probable/unconfirmed/not identified were those “where testing was not completed or inconclusive.”
News media were quick to report that 27,967 died from COVID-19 in 2020. In truth, the only confirmed COVID-19 deaths were 8,209. Making it the 6th lowest cause of death in the Philippines, just a notch higher than transport accidents (8,017). Indeed, confirmed COVID-19 deaths constitute merely 1.4% of total deaths.
Compare that to heart disease (99,680 or 17.3%) or diabetes (37,265 or 6.5%). More on those two later. With regard to viral and transmissible diseases, pneumonia killed 32,574 (or 5.7%), while tuberculosis caused 17,433 deaths (or 3%).
But what’s interesting about pneumonia and tuberculosis is that they actually went down by a significant number: a 48.1% decrease for pneumonia from 2019 and a 25% decrease for tuberculosis from its 2015-2019 average. Interesting because COVID-19 has been compared to flu or pneumonia, particularly when discussing IFR’s or CFR’s. So, to see pneumonia deaths (the 5th highest cause of death in the Philippines) go down 24,256 in one year is patently deserving of deeper investigation, particularly when there’s supposedly 19,758 probable/”not identified” COVID-19 deaths.
The other is the fact that tuberculosis remains a far deadlier killer, despite having had a vaccine longer, despite having been around for far more years, and despite being more transmissible than COVID-19. And yet we never locked down our country or imposed mandatory mask requirements for that.
The other number that should make everyone pause is the item designated as “intentional self-harm,” which very likely means suicides. In 2020, the year of the lockdown, the country saw 3,529 suicides, a 25.7% increase or 721 more suicides than 2019. Last year also saw nationwide school closures, which must be emphasized because most of the suicides were from the 15- to 29-year-old range. Which is ironic because that happens to be precisely the age range least seriously affected by COVID-19. So much for protecting our young.
Finally, going back to heart disease and diabetes, the top and 4th top killers in the Philippines: PSA 2020 data showed heart disease deaths went up by 2.3% and diabetes 7.8%. Guess what’s amongst the biggest contributing factors for heart disease and diabetes? Physical inactivity and overeating.
Now guess again if lockdowns kill.
Jemy Gatdula is a Senior Fellow of the Philippine Council for Foreign Relations and a Philippine Judicial Academy law lecturer for constitutional philosophy and jurisprudence.