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UP experts: New COVID-19 cases increase, but reproduction number still below 1

Experts from the University of the Philippines (UP) observed an increase in the daily number of new COVID-19 cases in the country in the past week but said the virus' reproduction number remains below one.

In their latest report, the UP OCTA research team said the reproduction number remains at 0.96 from September 7 to 13 despite an increase in new cases that deviated from the downward trend in the four weeks prior.

The reproduction number indicates the average number of people who may contract COVID-19 from an infected person. In earlier reports, the researchers said that to flatten the curve, the reproduction number should be less than one. A value higher than one indicates the pandemic is spreading.

Health authorities have recorded a total of 265,888 cases in the Philippines as of Monday, September 14. Of this number, almost 54,000 are active cases, more than 200,000 are recoveries, and more than 4,600 are deaths.

NCR data

In the National Capital Region (NCR), the researchers similarly reported an increase in daily new cases — 1,580 new cases per day — but said the reproduction number has fallen further from 0.94 to 0.92 in the past week.

The positivity rate in the region also continues to decrease, from 16% from August 10 to 16 to 11% from September 7 to 13, "getting close to the target of 10%," they said.

They also said that the hospital occupancy rate in the NCR has decreased below critical level and hospital bed capacity has increased.

High-risk areas

Outside Metro Manila, the researchers observed a "significant increase" in daily new COVID-19 cases and a reproduction number higher than one in Cavite, Batangas, Rizal and Bulacan, making them "high-risk areas."

Hospitals in Cavite, Rizal, Bulacan, and Negros Occidental are "close to critical levels," they said.

Daily new cases in Negros Occidental have "stabilized" and the reproduction number has decreased. Positivity rates in the province and in Calabarzon are still above 10%, the researchers said.

The UP OCTA research team identified the following places as areas with increasing trends and number of cases over the past week: Batangas, Cavite, Rizal, Bataan, Bulacan, Tarlac, Zambales, Benguet, Cagayan, Isabela, La Union, Oriental Mindoro, Palawan, Pangasinan, Agusan del Norte, Cotabato City, Maguindanao, Misamis Oriental, and South Cotabato.

NCR, Bacolod City, and Laguna still have a high number of cases but showed no significant change in trends, the researchers said.

They recommended "more aggressive and effective localized lockdowns and stricter border controls" aside from scaled up testing, tracing, isolation and treatment programs.

They also urged the authorities to carefully monitor and expand hospital capacities in hotspots.

"The implementation of the current quarantine must also be augmented with better pandemic surveillance, more effective strategies for physical distancing, and compliance with other health protocols, including the vigorous promotion of personal hygiene practices, and the wearing of masks and other personal protective equipment," the researchers said.

They also reiterated their recommendation for the Department of Transportation (DOTr) to reconsider its decision to progressively reduce physical distancing in public utility vehicles, saying "this has not been thoroughly studied for its possible effect on enabling the transmission of COVID-19."

The DOTr on Monday implemented reduced physical distancing inside public mass transport. From one meter, the distance was lessened to .75 meters on Monday and could be further reduced in the coming weeks, the department said.

Members of the UP OCTA research team said they were not consulted by the DOTr— RSJ, GMA News