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UP experts recommend 15-day MECQ extension in Metro Manila, nearby areas

Experts from the University of the Philippines recommended a 15-day extension of the modified enhanced community quarantine (MECQ) in Metro Manila and nearby provinces, warning that a "premature" lifting may lead to an "uncontrolled" growth of COVID-19 cases.

In their latest report, the UP OCTA research team said there could be 210,000 COVID-19 cases in the country by the end of the month if the MECQ stays imposed over certain areas.

Enforcing the MECQ only until August 18 may lead to 230,000 cases, while a general community quarantine may lead to 250,000, the researchers said.

They said a 15-day MECQ extension will allow local government units to improve tracking, quarantine, and isolation procedures and the public and private sectors to ensure workplaces are safe.

In addition, the researchers recommended scaled up testing, tracing, isolation, treatment and health system capability.

"The government should learn from the lessons of Cebu," they said, noting that Cebu has "flattened the curve" after emerging from a stricter lockdown. 

While "economically painful," extending the MECQ will result in a "more durable" opening later on with testing, tracing, isolation, and treatment capabilities in place, they said.

"If we lift the MECQ prematurely, we will need to deal with the outbreak in the NCR entering a phase of uncontrolled and very rapid growth," the researchers said.

"The extension is not an act against the economy. It is based on the conviction that effectively suppressing the virus is the only way we can open up society and jumpstart economic recovery," they said.

The researchers added that an extension will ensure that hospitals and their workers in the MECQ areas will not be overwhelmed by an increasing number of cases in the next few weeks.

The national COVID-19 case total as of Sunday afternoon was 161,253, with 112,586 recoveries and 2,665 deaths.

Metro Manila, Bulacan, Laguna, Cavite, and Rizal were placed under MECQ from August 4 to 18. President Rodrigo Duterte will announce new quarantine classifications on Monday.

In the new report, the researchers said the reproduction number of the virus, or the number of people an infected person could pass it to, in the Philippines fell to 1.12 in the past week from 1.15 at the start of the month.

The reproduction number should be less than one to indicate that the curve has been flattened.

In Metro Manila, the reproduction number was down to 1.14 in the August 9 to 15 period from 1.19 from August 2 to 8, they said.

However, they reported that the daily number of new cases in the Philippines "increased slightly" from August 9 to 15, and that the "pandemic surge" in the NCR is "real."

Hospital bed and ICU occupancy in the NCR are still at "critical levels" and the "high" positivity rate of 17% indicates testing must be scaled up, they said.

In Cebu, on the other hand, the daily number of new cases has decreased to less than 80 in the past week and the reproduction number has dropped to 0.51.

"The lockdown in Cebu showed that after 30 days, cases decrease by 50%," the researchers said. They stressed that the "flattening of the curve" needs to be sustained.

The report was prepared by Guido David, Ranjit Singh Rye, Ma. Patricia Agbulos, and Rev. Fr. Nicanor Austriaco, with contributions from Eero Rosini Brillantes, Bernhard Eqwolf, Troy Gepte, Rodrigo Angelo Ong, Michael Tee, and Benjamin Vallejo, Jr.  —KBK, GMA News