MANILA, March 11 (Xinhua) -- The Philippine Department of Health (DOH) said on Wednesday that 16 more people have tested positive for the new coronavirus in the Philippines, bringing the total number of COVID-19 cases in the country to 49.
Philippine Health Assistant Secretary Maria Rosario Vergeire said the DOH will release details of the new cases later Wednesday.
"We would like to address the capacity of the hospitals due to the increasing COVID-19 cases," Vergeire said at a news conference.
The country's Presidential Spokesperson Salvador Panelo said on Wednesday that some of the hospitals in Metro Manila are experiencing overcrowding due to an increasing number of people who might have contracted the new coronavirus.
"While we encourage everyone to consult or see a healthcare provider in case they experience any symptom of the virus, mild or otherwise, we wish to reiterate (that) those considered close contacts with symptoms of COVID-19 should be prioritized in obtaining medical attention and management," Panelo said in a statement.
"Close contacts include persons with a travel history in the last 14 days to countries with local transmission or those who have a history of exposure to patients who tested positive for COVID-19, i.e., those who provided direct care for a COVID-19 patient or those working together, staying in the same close environment, traveling together, or living in the same household with a COVID-19 patient within the 14-day incubation period," he added.
The number of Philippine COVID-19 cases has grown rapidly in the last few days. The tally stood at 49 cases on Wednesday, including one death. The country is seeing more cases since it detected local transmission on Saturday.
The Philippines plans to buy 40,000 laboratory test kits for the new coronavirus disease. Already, the DOH said it has requested an additional budget of 139 million pesos (roughly 2.8 million U.S. dollars) to buy more test kits.
The DOH also said it has around 2,000 test kits in its inventory. But the DOH stressed the need to stock up more kits as it anticipates more cases in the coming days or weeks as the government conducts comprehensive contact tracing activities for all cases.
The country's Food and Drug Administration Director General Rolando Enrique Domingo said the FDA approved the COVID-19 test kits developed by local scientists.
"It can now be used for testing coupled with genetic sequencing," Domingo said in a text message to Xinhua, adding that "the increasing number of reported COVID-19 cases will require immediate diagnosis and monitoring."
Domingo said in a news conference that the University of the Philippines National Institutes of Health, which created the test kits, has committed 1,000 test kits every week.
He said the locally-made test kits "will provide our laboratories with technological reinforcement to accommodate the growing number of patients to be tested and aid in early screening of positive cases."
Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte has signed a proclamation declaring a state of nationwide public health emergency after the number of COVID-19 cases in the country surged and detected local community transmission.
Indeed, the government is bracing for "possible sustained community transmission."
"Once there is sustained community transmission or increasing number of local cases whose links cannot be established, the strategy will be shifted from intensive contact tracing, to the implementation of community-level quarantine or lockdown and possible suspension of work or school," Philippine Health Secretary Francisco Duque said.
Duque urged the public to practice personal preventive measures such as proper hand hygiene, cough etiquette, maintain social distancing, avoid visiting crowded public places, and avoid mass gatherings at this critical time.