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NCR, other high-risk areas should remain under MECQ –UP study

The National Capital Region (NCR) and other high-risk areas for COVID-19 should remain under modified enhanced community quarantine (MECQ) after May 31, according to a group of researchers from the University of the Philippines, noting the over 7,000 additional infections yet to be reported by the Department of Health.

"We recommend that the national government continue the MECQ in the NCR and consider the same in other high-risk areas," UP Diliman Political Science Department Assistant Professor Ranjit Rye, a member of the team, said, citing the study they conducted.

"The reproduction number of NCR, which is oscillating at around 1.0 rather than showing a discernible decrease, is a sign that it might be premature to relax the MECQ to GCQ (general community quarantine)," he added.

"Given that the data received from DOH appears to have a lag, NCR remains a high-risk category."

The study comes as local government officials are recommending the transition from MECQ to GCQ, which means more relaxed restrictions, starting June 1.

Even Interior Secretary Eduardo Ano has said that the NCR -- which has been under strict community quarantine since March 17 -- may be placed under GCQ after May 31.

Unreported cases

Rye said their team found out that there are 7,119 individuals nationwide who have tested positive for COVID-19 based on reports by 36 testing centers but have yet to be included in the official count of the Department of Health (DOH).

Likewise, the team found that there was almost no change in the week-to-week number of new COVID-19 cases in the NCR during the first 10 days of the implementation of MECQ, or from May 16 to 25, based on current DOH data, and that the average number of new COVID-19 cases in NCR during that period is greater than five per day per million of population.

In addition, the NCR cities of Makati, Las Piñas and Pasay had the largest week-to-week increase in new COVID-19 cases, which, according to the study, went up by 170%, 60% and 58% respectively, from the previous week.

The UP research team also noted increases in the number of new COVID-19 cases in Manila, Taguig, Muntinlupa, Caloocan and Pateros.

"While such increases cannot be attributed to MECQ at this time, there remains the possibility that a transition from MECQ to GCQ could exacerbate the increase in new Covid-19 cases in these LGUs further undermining the government’s efforts to control the transmission of COVID-19," Rye said.

Further, the UP researchers' data also showed that the reproduction number of COVID-19 cases in Davao City and Laguna is greater than one, making these areas fall under high-risk category.

Mayors' recommendation

Based on the recommendation of NCR mayors, placing the NCR under GCQ would mean 75% of the workforce of each company are allowed to physically report back to work.

The NCR mayors, however, said that mass transport should be prohibited in the NCR even if it transitions to GCQ, a departure from existing GCQ protocol which allows scaled down mass transport in areas under it.

The Metropolitan Manila Development Authority (MMDA) is expecting that less workers would troop to Metro Manila during the proposed shift to GCQ.

In a public briefing on Wednesday, MMDA general manager Jojo Garcia said the number of workers travelling to Metro Manila before the COVID-19 pandemic would not be the same since community quarantine is still imposed.

“Tandaan po natin kapag tayo po ay nag-downgrade sa GCQ nandoon pa rin po 'yung CQ which means na community quarantine, meaning may mga restriction pa rin po tayo at may mga bagay po na hindi pa rin puwedeng gawin,” Garcia said.

Garcia said some companies are operating through reduced and skeleton workforce, while some are implementing work from home arrangements.

The Philippines has recorded 14,669 COVID-19 cases thus far. Of this number, 3,412 recovered while 886 have died. --KBK, GMA News