The national government should consider extending the enhanced community quarantine beyond May 15, 2020 in several areas, including Metro Manila, stressing that a “premature relaxation” could result in spike in COVID-19 cases and deaths, a team of University of the Philippines faculty said.
The study was done by Dr. Guido David, Ph. D. of the UP institute of Mathematics; Professor Ranjit Rye, MPA, of the UP Department of Political Science; and Ma. Patricia Agbulos, MBM of Octa Research.
“Our data suggest that a premature relaxation of the ECQ in the NCR (National Capital Region) may result in an escalation of 24,000 cases and 1,700 deaths by June 15, 2020,” the professors said in their published “COVID-19 Forecasts in the Philippines: Sub-national models for NCR and other selected area.”
“Based on our data, if the ECQ is lifted prematurely, we will be faced with another wave or a surge in transmissions that is certain to squander our gains forcing us to make further costly interventions and increasing the total economic cost and the number of lives lost,” they said.
“It is in this light, that we exhort the government to reconsider its plan of relaxing the ECQ for selected cities within Metro Manila,” said the report.
The team examined in detail the state of the COVID-19 pandemic in select cities and provinces and evaluated them by using measures or grades.
The team illustrated three forecasts for NCR, which during the time of study has around 6,600 cases.
The first forecast used the current trends based on the recent seven-day average of reproduction of cases.
The second forecast assumed a continued ECQ, which noted improvements in the fight against the virus.
The third forecast assumed a relaxing of the ECQ, which showed an increase in the reproduction number.
“Note that with a continued ECQ, the number of COVID-19 cases in NCR should be around 12,000 by June 15 with 800 deaths. Without any changes in the trend, the projection is 14,000 cases by June 15 with 1,000 deaths,” the paper said.
However, with the easing of ECQ the cases and deaths could almost double, it added.
"We believe that this proposal will create additional risk as the relaxation of the ECQ will encourage increased mobility, a driver of the virus, in some cities in Metro Manila. It is possible that this may lead to increasing transmissions of COVID-19 infections and could possibly lead to more deaths," the study said.
"We wish to emphasize that we are faced with a choice not between the economy and public health (lives vs livelihood), but between a less or more costly disruption to the lives of ordinary Filipinos," the study added.
The professors said that while the ECQ has brought gains in the battle against COVID-19, the people “must not be complacent as we are not where we are supposed to be as far as dealing with this pandemic.”
"We are still in the early part of managing this crisis. It is against this backdrop, that we encourage ever greater cooperation and collaboration between government, business, and civil society moving forward,” they said.
The team recommended the following in moving forward in the fight against the pandemic:
- The national government (NG) should consider extending the enhanced community quarantine (ECQ) beyond May 15, 2020 for the following areas: National Capital Region, Batangas, Cebu, Zamboanga del Sur, and Davao City. The NG may also consider extending the ECQ for Albay, Bataan, Iloilo, Laguna and Pampanga, depending on their health provisions.
- Expansion of capability to expand mass testing, which will help determine the actual number of COVID-19 cases and prevent infective individuals, particularly asymptomatic cases, from spreading the virus.
- Continue boosting efficient and effective contact tracing system to track those who have been exposed to infective individual. The national and local government should train and hire more personnel to do this. Where applicable, digital contact tracing apps should be used.
- Make available supportive isolation programs and facilities to accommodate suspected and confirmed cases with mild or no symptoms especially in areas that will loosen restrictions on mobility. Provisions for food and other forms of social amelioration for patients during the quarantine period might be needed to ensure that they will observe restrictions in place.
- Shorten the length of time of quarantines with massive testing, effective tracing and supportive isolation programs. The government should ensure that quarantines implemented all over the country are humane and ethical, protective of civil rights and due process, and provide mechanisms that respect health and data privacy.
- Expansion of the health system capacity especially those needed to combat COVID-19 like personal protective equipment, ventilators, and isolation rooms. Scale up hiring of health human resources to deal with the medium to long term impact of the pandemic.
- Hasten the setting up of COVID-19 laboratories and the accreditation of other laboratories across the country. The Department of Health may consider utilizing laboratories hosted in DOH-owned hospitals and in state universities and colleges with medical schools and vacant land. This network of COVID-19 laboratories will help enable the massive testing needed in the months to come.
"The implementation of the quarantine should be made more effective in scaling up the government’s information drive to inform individuals and businesses of their responsibilities during the new normal especially the guidelines issued by the various agencies," the team said.
"We laud the government for extending the distribution and expanding the coverage of the social amelioration program. The government, however, needs to improve the implementation of this program in order to urgently and expeditiously distribute these resources including relief goods with focus on efficiency, effectiveness, and reduction of pilferage and corruption," it added. —LDF/NB/KG, GMA News