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Sans enough COVID-19 testing, Metro Manila may have third wave under GCQ —Duque

Placing Metro Manila under general community quarantine without enough testing for its population may open the possibility of another spike in the number of COVID-19 cases, according to Health Secretary Francisco Duque III.

"Ang worst case scenario rito ay mag-uulit tayo ng mga outbreaks at magkakaroon ng tinatawag na second wave, actually third wave na tayo," Duque said in a public hearing led by the Senate Committtee of the Whole on Tuesday.

"Gaya ng sinabi ko ay dedepende pa ho iyan doon sa mga bilang ng mga kaso sa iba't ibang mga lugar," he added.

This was his response after Senator Sherwin Gatchalian stressed that it seems Metro Manila would be like a ticking bomb if it shifts to a relaxed community quarantine unprepared.

"Sec. Duque, para sa akin, parang papunta tayo sa isang napakalaking problema. Lumalabas na ang tao at wala pa ho tayong malawakang testing. Ano po ang nakikita ninyong worst case scenario ho dito dahil hindi natin tinake advantage 'yung pagkakataon during ECQ na mag-testing tayo? Ngayon lang natin ginagawa 'yun," the senator pointed out.

The Department of Health (DOH) earlier clarified that an "expanded" COVID-19 testing is ongoing. It underscored that it is veering away from the term "mass testing" which it described as indiscriminate.

Duque said thresholds are currently being used to assess areas affected by the pandemic—25 or more cases for a province, 15 cases for a highly-urbanized city, and 10 cases for an independent chartered city.

The risk severity would be assessed by taking into consideration the case doubling time and critical care utilization rate in the area, he added.

The DOH secretary further explained that five levels of the epidemic phase have been identified by experts to help local government units determine where they are. These are recognition, initiation, acceleration, deceleration, and preparation.

"Preparation po 'yung panglima, ibig sabihin maghanda for the second wave," Duque said.

Deputy chief implementer of the national policy against COVID-19 Vince Dizon, also present during the virtual hearing, said the government aims to test two percent of the over 100 million Filipino population.

"The goal is we should be able to build up capacity to test up to 2% of the population, so we are looking at two million people in total," he said.

More than 207,000 individuals have undergone the COVID-19 test nationwide, based on the latest data from the Department of Health's (DOH) online tracker.

Dizon, however, added that in outbreak epicenters like the National Capital Region, the ideal coverage of the COVID-19 testing, based on global best practices, is 10% to 12%.

There are 13.9 million people living in Metro Manila, according to the Commission on Population and Development. 

Of the over 12,900 COVID-19 cases in the Philippines, 8,414 have been recorded in this region.

Nonetheless, Duque assured that the Philippines would not be placed under a large-scale lockdown again if another wave of the outbreak occurs.

"May gagawin na po tayong stratehiya, localized na po ang quarantine measures. Hindi na ito para sa malawak na lugar," Duque said.

"Mas naka-focus na ang quarantine measure natin. Kung may mag-positive na dalawa sa isang barangay, iyon na lang ang ila-lockdown," he added. —KG, GMA News