How Did COVID-19 Started in the Philippines

On January 30, 2020, the COVID-19 pandemic was confirmed to have spread to the Philippines when the first case was confirmed in Metro Manila. It involved a 38-year-old Chinese woman who was admitted to the San Lazaro Hospital in Manila. On February 2, a second case was confirmed – it involved a 44-year-old Chinese man who died a day earlier. This was also the first confirmed COVID-19 death outside mainland China. On March 5, the first case of someone without a travel history abroad was confirmed – it involved a 62-year-old male who visited a Muslin prayer hall in San Juan, Metro Manila. This case raised suspicions that a COVID-19 community transmission is already underway in the Philippines. On March 7, the man’s wife was confirmed to have contracted COVID-19 – this was also the first confirmed local transmission.

As of April 13, 2020, there have been 4,648 confirmed COVID-19 cases in the Philippines – out of these cases, 297 deaths and 197 recoveries were recorded. As of April 11, the Philippines has conducted 38, 640 tests, including repeat tests, and have tested over 33,814 people.

On March 31, the country saw the largest single-day increase of confirmed cases after 538 new cases were announced. Meanwhile, the smallest single-day increase was on April 4 when only 76 new COVID-19 cases were announced. All regions in the Philippines have been affected by the pandemic.

Since January 30, 2020, suspected COVID-19 cases have been tested in the Research Institute for Tropical Medicine (RITM) in Muntinlupa, Metro Manila – before this, confirmatory tests were sent abroad. To date, there are 8 sub-national laboratories – includes ones in Metro Manila, Bicol, Baguio, Cebu, Iloilo, and Davao – that are also conducting tests while a number of laboratories are still undergoing proficiency testing before it can be utilized.

COVID-19 Timeline in the Philippines

Numerous measures were enforced to mitigate the spread of the disease in the Philippines, including travel bans to mainland China, South Korea, Hong Kong, and Macau. On March 7, the Department of Health raised its “Code Red Sub-Level 1” – this came with a recommendation to President Duterte to impose a public health emergency, authorizing the DOH to mobilize resources to acquire safety gear and to impose preventive quarantine measures. On March 9, the President issued Proclamation No. 922, pronouncing the country under a state of public health emergency.

On March 12, President Duterte raised the alert level to “Code Red Sub-Level 2”, imposing a partial lockdown on Metro Manila to prevent further spread of the COVID-19 outbreak. On March 16, the lockdowns were expanded, placing Luzon under an enhanced community quarantine or a total lockdown. Outside Luzon, other local governments implemented similar lockdowns.

On March 17, the President issued Proclamation No. 929, declaring the country under a state of calamity for a tentative six-month period. On March 28, President Duterte signed the Bayanihan to Heal as One Act – this gave him additional powers to manage the COVID-19 outbreak.  

Confirmed COVID-19 Cases

On January 30, the first COVID-19 case was recorded in the Philippines. The diagnosed patient was a 38-year-old Chinese woman from Wuhan who had arrived in Manila from Hong Kong on January 21. On January 25, the patient was admitted to the San Lazaro Hospital in Manila after she sought a consultation because of a mild cough – at the time, the woman was already asymptomatic.

On February 2, the second confirmed COVID-19 case was reported. It involved a 44-year-old Chinese male – he was the companion of the first case. He passed away on February 1 and it was the first recorded death outside of mainland China.

On February 5, the Department of Health reported a third confirmed COVID-19 case – it involved a 60-year-old Chinese woman who flew to Cebu City from Hong Kong on January 20 before she traveled to Bohol where she consulted a private hospital on January 22 due to rhinitis and fever. Samples were taken from the patient on January 24 revealed negative results; however, the DOH was alerted on February 3 that the samples taken from the patient on January 23 was positive for the virus. Upon recovery on January 31, the patient was allowed to return home to China.

On March 6, after a month without new cases, the Department of Health reported two new COVID-19 cases – this time, it involved two Filipinos. One is a 48-year-old man who had a travel history to Japan; he returned to the country on February 25 and reported symptoms on March 3. The other case involved a 60-year-old man with a history of diabetes and hypertension – he experienced symptoms on February 25 and was admitted to a hospital on March 1 when he contracted pneumonia. He had last visited a Muslim prayer hall in San Juan. The DOH confirmed that the fifth case had no travel history outside the country and is the first confirmed case of local transmission.

Later, a sixth case was reported – it involved a 59-year-old woman who is the wife of the fifth case. On March 8, it was reported that a Taiwanese, an American, and two Filipinos were being treated for COVID-19. On March 9, the DOH reported 10 additional COVID-19 cases with unnamed patients being isolated at different hospitals. That same day, President Duterte announced four more cases from Bulacan, Santa Maria, San Juan, and Quezon City. Since then, the DOH recorded a constant increase in the confirmed COVID-19 cases in the country.

As of March 31, the oldest person to have recovered from COVID-19 in the country is an 83-year-old woman from Santa Rosa Laguna. As of April 3, the youngest patient to die due to COVID-19 complications was a 7-year-old girl from the Ilocos Region.

A total of 21 Filipino doctors have died due to COVID-19, according to reports from the Private Hospitals Association of the Philippines (PHAP).

Suspected COVID-19 Cases

Previously, the Department of Health used the designation patients under investigation (PUIs) and persons under monitoring (PUMs) to identify suspected and confirmed cases. PUIs involved persons who had a travel history to Wuhan but by February 3, the DOH expanded its scope to include individuals who had a travel history to any part of China. Meanwhile, PUMs refer to asymptomatic persons with a known history of exposure to another person confirmed to have COVID-19.

In April 11, the DOH revised its terminology for persons under investigation (PUIs) to probable and suspect cases. Probable cases involve individuals who underwent testing with results that require further validation, and those who were tested but whose tests were not facilitated in an official laboratory for a reverse transcription polymerase chain reaction (RT-PCR) test. On the other hand, suspect cases involve individuals exhibiting flu-like symptoms and has a history of travel to areas with reported local transmission within 14 days before their symptoms manifested. Someone with cough, shortness of breath, or fever who is above 60 years old, with other underlying illness, pregnant, or a healthcare worker could also be considered as a suspect case. Patients admitted to a hospital because of severe symptoms caused by an undetermined lung disease may also be tagged as a suspect case.

Later on, the usage of the PUM designation was discontinued. It was reasoned that it is assumed that the general public has been exposed to COVID-19 due to community or local transmission already happening in numerous parts of the country.

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