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Shifting Metro Manila to GCQ early will increase COVID-19 cases, deaths —UST researchers

The number of COVID-19 cases and deaths in Metro Manila will increase if it shifts to a general community quarantine on June 1, researchers from the University of Santo Tomas warned Wednesday.

Associate Professor Bernhard Egwolf and Dominican biologist Fr. Nicanor Austriaco cited an epidemiological model they created predicting the future behavior of the virus in the National Capital Region.

The researchers said that the early implementation of the enhanced community quarantine (ECQ) in Metro Manila "was able to save thousands of lives," citing the gap between fatalities recorded in Metro Manila and New York City at 621 deaths and 16,232, respectively, as of May 21.

Metro Manila had implemented a lockdown a week earlier than New York City after both metropolitan areas recorded their first COVID-19 fatalities.

Despite this, the team said, the ECQ is "struggling to suppress the pandemic."

"At this rate, the model predicts that the total number of cases in Metro Manila will continue to increase gradually and will not plateau for many months, though the forecasted number of active cases will also be decreasing," Egwolf and Austriaco said.

Researchers from the University of the Philippines have also urged that Metro Manila remain under the modified enhanced community quarantine (MECQ) rather than move to the less strict GCQ.

"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," said UP research team member Assistant Professor Ranjit Rye, noting that NCR remains a "high-risk" area.

A recent poll by the Social Weather Stations also found that 87% of Filipinos worried that an immediate family member may become infected with the potentially life-threatening virus.

Private healthcare firm PhilCare, meanwhile, found in its poll that 82.5% of its survey's respondents are very worried about getting infected with COVID-19 even amid the ongoing quarantine measures, while 60% of the workforce are afraid to physically report back to work.

Metro Manila's mayors, however, have agreed to a transition to a GCQ.

'Not inevitable'

The UST researchers stressed, however, that the increases are "not inveitable."

"They can be offset with a rigorous tracking, testing, and tracing program that seeks to limit community spread by breaking chains of viral transmission," they said.

"We acknowledge that national and local authorities have worked hard to increase the testing capacity in the Philippines in the past two months, and we commend them for their efforts," they added.

Citing the work of Harvard University scholars, the study that Metro Manila will need a testing capacity of 15,000 tests daily and 1,800 contact tracers.

Should the enhanced community quarantine (ECQ) be maintained, the number of active cases will not fall below 1,000 cases until early September, the study said. — Joahna Lei Casilao/BM, GMA News