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OCTA to gov’t: Don’t lift MECQ in NCR until reproduction number is significantly decreased

Experts from the OCTA Research Group on Friday warned against further easing of COVID-19 restrictions in the National Capital Region (NCR) even as the spread of the disease showed signs of slowing down.

OCTA Research fellow Fr. Nicanor Austriaco said the reproduction number should be less than 1 for several weeks. A reproduction number of 1 or higher indicates sustained transmission of the virus.

NCR’s reproduction number is currently at 0.99.

“We urge the national government, as one possible benchmark for changing quarantine levels, is not to exit MECQ (modified enhanced community quarantine) until at least the R is less than 0.9 in a sustained manner,” Austriaco said in a webinar organized by the Cardinal Santos Medical Center.

“As (OCTA fellow) Professor Guido (David) pointed out, we’re currently somewhat unstable and the reason why it’s unstable is because not all the LGUs (local government units) are decreasing and so you always have the possibility that as some of the LGUs recover there will be an outbreak in one LGU that will spill over to the adjacent LGUs,” he added.

David said the average daily cases in the NCR in the past seven days is now 4,200 compared to 5,200 cases two weeks ago.

“How fast we decongest our hospitals depends upon the sustained reproduction number that we are able to maintain in the next few weeks,” Austriaco said.

“We are looking for a consistent pattern of decrease throughout all the 17 LGUs for a significant period of time before we know we have successfully passed through the surge.”

Metro Manila and nearby provinces of Bulacan, Laguna, Cavite, and Rizal were placed under an enhanced community quarantine (ECQ)—the strictest form of lockdown— from March 29 to April 11 amid the surge in COVID-19 cases.

The quarantine protocol has since been downgraded to modified ECQ, which will stay until the end of April unless extended by the government.

Austriaco, meanwhile, emphasized the need to tap thousands of new nurses in order to maintain an adequate standard of care for COVID-19 patients in Metro Manila.

He said OCTA’s modeling suggested that NCR does not have enough nurses to staff 9,745 COVID beds.

Another OCTA fellow, professor Ranjit Rye, added the government should continue to tighten border controls in ports and airports as well as controls within and among provinces to mitigate viral transmission.

He also urged the government to accelerate the procurement and optimize the deployment of vaccines.

“We are not yet where we’re supposed to be as far as dealing with the surge is concerned. We are still in the midst of it,” he said.

The researchers also asked the government to prepare for future surges by undertaking an assessment of its response to the current surge, defining an early warning system composed of circuit breakers or triggers, allocating more funds and resources to strengthen the public health system, and providing more resources and capacity building for LGUs.

The Philippines reported 8,767 new infections on Thursday, taking the total caseload to 971,049. The death toll climbed to 16,370.—AOL, GMA News