Two days after the Philippines posted over 2,000 new coronavirus disease 2019 (Covid-19) cases in a day, Health Secretary Francisco Duque III said Wednesday the country has “successfully flattened” its infection curve since April, only to retract it a few hours after receiving flak for his declarations.

“We have successfully flattened the curve since April. The metrics for arriving at that conclusion of flattening the curve is actually one, the case doubling time of the Covid-19 infection has actually become longer,” he said during a pre-SONA forum with other Cabinet officials.

Duque explained that the country’s case doubling rate, or how fast infections in an area double, is now between eight to 12 days.

“The case doubling time is 2.5 days during the initial phase of the pandemic,” Duque added.

Duque added that another metric for his claim is the longer mortality doubling time.

“The mortality doubling time is now longer and is now [considered] moderate risk classification,” Duque said.

The country’s health chief also claimed that the Duterte administration was able to improve its COVID-19 pandemic response in terms of public health interventions and non-pharmaceutical interventions such as the mandatory wearing of face masks.

In tweets, Duque explained that the recent surge in Covid-19 cases was due to “expanded testing capacity and community transmission as we allow the movement of people.”

“Ang mahalaga ay ma-maintain ang bilang ng mga kaso at manageable levels para hindi natin ma-overwhelm at mapagod ang ating healthcare workers.” he said in another tweet.

A study by University of Santo Tomas (UST) researchers, however, said that “hospitalization rate” in Metro Manila, or the percentage of beds occupied, was on an upward trend since July.

Positivity rate, or the percentage of Covid-19 tests that had turned out positive, was also rising, indicating a “surge” in the Covid-19 pandemic.

Multiple big hospitals in Metro Manila have also reported full utilization of ICU beds for Covid-19 patients.

“While we have flattened the curve, I have earlier indicated that this was able to provide us a window of opportunity to improve and increase, one-up our health system’s capacity,” Duque added.


Duque draws flak

Social media erupted in a frenzy after Duque’s “flattened the curve” claim.

“Duque” became the number one trending topic on Twitter immediately after Duque’s announcement.

Sen. Migz Zubiri tweeted his disbelief. “OMG! Dear Secretary Duque, with all due respect, pls tell us what curve is flattening? Is it the fact that the cases in April were at an average of 200 a day as compared to the daily average of over a thousand cases today?”

Former senator and current Sorsogon Governor Chiz Escudero said Duque should just do his job as best he can “without fooling yourself or us and pray really hard that all our efforts will bear fruit.”

Sen. Sonny Angara didn’t believe the health chief’s claim that the country is flattening the curve saying the country’s hospitals are “sulking up” with new Covid-19 cases.

Our hospitals are full or sulking up with new cases. Not exactly success sir Frowning face

Health reform advocate and former special adviser to the National Task Force on Covid-19, Dr. Tony Leachon believes that country has not flattened the curves based on increasing number of cases, number of deaths and full critical care capacity of Metro Manila and Cebu hospitals.

Duque apologizes

A few hours later, Duque apologized and corrected himself admitting that the country has not flattened the curve and that Covid-19 cases are still on the rise.

“Paumanhin po sa confusion na resulta ng aking earlier statement, nalito lang po ako sa tanong. Iyong longer case doubling time which is eight days, ibig sabihin po nito, nailiko na, nasimulan na nating nailiko o naikurba na natin ang epidemic curve nung [nagkaron ng] imposition ng ECQ noong March,” Duque said.

“Now, we are seeing an increase in cases dahil sa expanded testing and community transmission as we allow more movement of people, dahil nagluwag na po tayo ng restrictions,” Duque added.

He meant the earlier transitioning of Metro Manila to General Community Quarantine (GCQ) last June 1. Under GCQ, each company is allowed to operate at a 75% workforce in the office, as long as social distancing is strictly followed.

Duque added that the rise in Covid-19 cases were also happening in Iran, Serbia and Japan due to relaxed restrictions.

“This is expected, as we open up the economy. What is important is we maintain the cases at manageable level para ang ating health care system at health workers ay hindi ma-overwhelm,” Duque said.

This is the second time Duque made an erroneous claim about the progress of the country’s handling of the pandemic.

Back in May, Duque claimed during a Senate panel virtual hearing that the country was already experiencing a second wave of Covid-19, only to take it back again and clarified that the country is still in the first wave.  (John Ezekiel J. Hirro, RJ Espartinez, Rommel F. Lopez)