The OCTA Research Team on Wednesday warned of a surge in COVID-19 cases if President Rodrigo Duterte approved the National Economic Development Authority’s proposal to place the whole Philippines under the least stringent modified general community quarantine.
In its latest report, OCTA indicated that the proposal for a nationwide shift to MGCQ starting on March 1 was particularly risky for Metro Manila because of the more contagious UK variant of the disease.
"[It] is not just risky, but also contrary to sensible epidemic management," OCTA said in its latest report.
“If restrictions in NCR are relaxed to very loose levels, the region will be under a constant threat of a surge due to the increased mobility of people, reduced social distancing and diminished compliance with health protocols, as was observed at the outset of the December holidays,” it added.
On Monday, acting NEDA director general Karl Chua proposed to President Rodrigo Duterte placing the entire country under MGCQ starting March 1 to balance the country's response to stop the spread of COVID-19 and the need of Filipinos to start earning and spending.
The team predicted that new COVID-19 cases in NCR could reach 2,400 per day by March 26, a window of just 36 days, if it would be placed under MGCQ.
The team urged the national government to defer NEDA’s proposal including the expansion of the age group who are allowed to go out in the capital region until its regional health indicators improved to qualify it for the MGCQ status as defined by the Inter-Agency Task Force.
“[T]he reproduction number Rt of NCR, which is oscillating between 0.9 and 1.1 rather than showing a discernible decrease, indicates that it may be premature to relax the GCQ to MGCQ in the NCR,” it said.
“The NCR will need more time to improve its health indicators beyond the proposed March 2021 proposed period of implementation by NEDA.”
The team also said the proposal should be deferred until the national government and local government units have finished vaccinating all health workers in the region and until LGUs have been given more time to prepare for a transition to MGCQ status.
“The NCR needs to be prepared not just in terms of resources but also in terms of systems and an expanded capacity to do testing, effective tracing, and supportive isolation in preparation for a possible surge in cases. These systems must be in place before we ease restrictions, especially in high-risk areas,” it said.
Further, the team said the Department of Health should first undertake an “exhaustive study to gain a clearer picture of the extent of transmissions of the UK variant in the NCR.”
“We believe that it should be the priority of DOH and the LGUs to ascertain that the threat posed by the more contagious and lethal UK variant is minimized before any decision to open up in the NCR is made.”
The research team also “strongly recommend” that LGUs in NCR reconsider and defer the implementation of the IATF recommendation to loosen age restrictions of vulnerable groups until Metro Manila Council have consulted with health experts as regards to the risks and benefits of this new proposal.
Meanwhile, the team noted that Navotas had the most noticeable increase in NCR, while Manila and Pasay had slight increases in new COVID-19 cases.
“Furthermore, in the identified NCR LGUs, the implementation of more aggressive and effective localized lockdowns with stricter border controls are urgently needed to suppress further viral transmissions. Effective and stricter border controls must be in place to mitigate COVID-19 transmissions within and between provinces to prevent the spread of the UK variant.”
It also urged high-risk LGUs in Central Visayas, Cordillera Administrative Region and other areas in the country to further intensify their efforts at testing, tracing and isolation to reverse the increase in transmissions in their communities.
The team identified Lapu-Lapu, Mandaue and Talisay in Cebu; Tabuk, Kalinga in CAR; and Cagayan de Oro as one of the hotspots of the virus.
Moreover, as the national government continues to reopen the economy amid the threat of the UK variant, the team called on LGUs in the country to further increase the capacity of the local healthcare system (human resources, equipment and bed capacity) in preparation for potential outbreaks in NCR.
It urged LGUs to further increase testing to cope with the expected surge in cases, scale-up contact tracing efforts, and to ensure that a robust and effective contact tracing app for active case finding is utilized all over NCR.
The team also said LGUs should continue building more isolation facilities in the capital region and improve hospital capacities “where they are limited and to improve the system for coordination and sharing of medical and isolation facilities all over the region.”
“Also, it is important that Congress, through its forthcoming stimulus package, allocate more funds to the government for the DOH and the national health institutes to procure equipment and supplies as well train more technical personnel so that it can improve and expand its capabilities to undertake the biosurveillance for the country,” the team said.
“Be that as it may, we support the proposal to expand transportation within the NCR and to the provinces as long as minimum health standards are strictly monitored and enforced in various transportation units,” it added.
The country’s reproduction number Rt is currently 1.10, a little higher than the reproduction number in NCR of 1.0. The positivity rate in NCR remained at 4%, over a testing capacity of 18,000 PCR tests per day.
Nationwide, COVID-19 cases rose to 553,424 on Thursday, including 11,577 deaths and 512,033 recoveries. -NB, GMA News