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Easing NCR GCQ may lead to COVID-19 surge around Christmas, experts say

The country's number of COVID-19 cases reported daily are on a downward trend but experts from the OCTA research team warned the national government against prematurely downgrading community quarantines particularly in Metro Manila.

In its latest report, the OCTA team said that the premature downgrade of the quarantine status in the national capital region may increase the risk of a surge in the number of COVID-19 infections in December.

"The national government must sustain the GCQ status in the NCR coupled with further improvements in its testing, tracing and isolation programs not just to sustain the gains of the last MECQ but to also prevent a surge, especially around Christmas time," the report said.

The OCTA research team is made up of experts from the University of the Philippines, University of Santo Tomas and Providence College.

"We caution the national government against prematurely downgrading the quarantine status in the identified high-risk areas and most especially the NCR as this may lead to exponential growth in the number of cases and deaths apart from overwhelming our health care system," the report said.

The OCTA research team showed that the number of daily cases reported decreased from 4,300 in early August to 2,988 in late September.

They further said that the rate of transmission, number of cases, positivity rate, and measures for hospital resource utilization are all on a downward in Metro Manila.

"But this positive trend is not irreversible and significant efforts have to be
undertaken by all stakeholders to sustain it," the experts said.

"While the situation in the NCR has improved as the rate of transmission, the number of cases, as ell as the positivity rate and the measure for hospital resource utilization are all on a downward trend, it has not yet achieved the crucial 28 days case doubling time requirement set by IATF to be classified into an MGCQ status," they added.

“Therefore, we recommend sustaining the current General Community Quarantine (GCQ) status for the NCR until it further improves its health indicators and qualifies for the MGCQ status,” the team said.

The UP OCTA research team also projected that the number of COVID-19 cases in the Philippines may increase to a minimum of 380,000 to a maximum of 410,000 by October 31.

“The current trajectory (as of September 25) shows between 310,000 and
315,000 cases by September 30. It is likely we will reach the lower range of
the previous projections, a very positive sign that we are headed in the right
direction,” it said.

High-risk areas and hot spots

Meanwhile, the experts said that the number of new cases reported in high-risk areas decreased in comparison to figures from last week. The areas include Bulacan, Batangas, Cavite, Laguna, Negros Occidental, and Rizal.

According to the team, the positivity rate in Calabarzon was recorded at 14 percent while the positivity rate in Bulacan was recorded at 11 percent over the past week.

In Bacolod City, the reproduction number is 0.94 while its positivity rate is at 10 percent. 

The researchers previously said that to flatten the curve, the reproduction number should be less than one while a number higher than one indicates that the virus is spreading.

Meanwhile, the current COVID-19 hotspots, regions where newly reported cases increased over a two week period, are Benguet, Iloilo, Leyte, Misamis Oriental, and Nueva Vizcaya.

The reproduction number in Iloilo City is at 1.36 and its positivity rate is at 8 percent while Bacolod has a 0.94 reproduction number while the positivity rate in Negros Occidental is at 8 percent.

“Given the of Covid-19 situation in the NCR and other hotspots identified, the implementation of more aggressive and effective localized lockdowns with stricter border controls are urgently needed to suppress further viral transmissions,” they said.

Cebu, meanwhile, has a positivity rate of 4 percent. with a reproduction number of 0.92. The experts said this indicated that the COVID-19 in the area is still under control.

Hospital capacity monitoring

The team also advised the government to monitor as well as to expand the capacity of hospitals in NCR as well as other hotspots.

According to the researchers, the COVID-19 beds in Valenzuela, Makati, and Muntinlupa have reached the critical level, wherein over 70 percent have been occupied.

Eighty-two percent of the COVID-19 beds in Valenzuela are occupied, 71 percent of the beds in Makati are occupied, and 81 percent of the beds in Muntinlupa.

“Given the experience of the last surge, there is an urgent need to scale up capacities of our health care system,” they said.

They also advised the government to ensure the increased capacity of the national health care system; sufficient testing capability; sufficient supply of personal protective equipment for frontliners; more isolation facilities in NCR and around the country; and effective and aggressive contact tracing.

“We urge the national and local governments to strictly monitor and enforce compliance to minimum health minimum health standards such as physical distancing and the wearing of face mask and face shields at the community level,” they said. -NB, GMA News