Experts from the University of the Philippines (UP) are urging the government to extend the enhanced community quarantine (ECQ) over Metro Manila, Batangas, Cebu, Zamboanga del Sur, and Davao City beyond Friday, May 15.
In a study, researchers Guido David, Ranjit Singh Rye, and Ma. Patricia Agbulos said that the ECQ must be extended in these areas to sustain the gains achieved so far against the COVID-19 pandemic until the government has “scaled up and rolled out its programs and its initiatives for mass testing, contact tracing, and isolation of infective individuals.”
They added that the government may consider extending the ECQ over Albay, Bataan, Iloilo, Laguna, and Pampanga, depending on the health provisions in these areas.
“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. A premature relaxation of the ECQ in NCR may result in an escalation of 24,000 cases and 1,700 deaths by June 15,” they warned.
The experts also underscored that a premature lifting of the ECQ could force the country to make further costly interventions that will drive up the death toll and total economic cost of the pandemic.
“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,” they said.
President Rodrigo Duterte was expected to decide on the fate of the ECQ on Monday.
Metro Manila cities
The UP team noted that Quezon City had the highest number of new COVID-19 cases from April 30 to May 6 in Metro Manila, followed by Parañaque, Manila, Makati, Pasay, and Taguig.
They estimated that the reproduction number in Malabon, Navotas, Parañaque, Muntinlupa, and Pasay was greater than 1, meaning that each infected person in these cities could transmit the coronavirus to more than one person.
The experts also said it was possible that Makati, Taguig, and Quezon City had a reproduction number close to or greater than 1.
Meanwhile, the “best-performing local government units” were Marikina, Mandaluyong, San Juan, Valenzuela, and Pasig.
The experts also noted that over 1,000 cases in Metro Manila still had unvalidated data, “so it is not yet clear to which LGUs these cases belong to.”
Presidential spokesman Harry Roque earlier said the ECQ may be downgraded to a general community quarantine in certain cities in Metro Manila after May 15.
The UP team said the “weakest link” in the Philippines’ COVID-19 response is effective contact tracing, stressing that identifying all the contacts of confirmed cases is crucial.
They urged the government to hire and train more contact tracers and make use of digital contract tracing applications.
The Department of Information and Communications Technology earlier said it was eyeing a contact tracing app developed in Singapore.
The experts also urged the expansion of the healthcare system’s capacity and the creation of more supportive isolation programs and facilities that will accommodate COVID-19 patients or suspects.
They also urged the Department of Health to hasten the accreditation of testing centers and called on government agencies to launch information drives for individuals and businesses about the “new normal.”
There are now 26 COVID-19 testing centers nationwide, with 90 others undergoing the laboratory accreditation process.
On May 10, Sunday, the country finally achieved its goal for April 30 of conducting 8,000 tests daily. — BM, GMA News