Metro Manila, 4 provinces under ECQ for at least one more week
MANILA, Philippines — President Rodrigo Duterte on Saturday ordered Metro Manila and four nearby provinces to remain under the strictest lockdown for at least another week to contain the surge in COVID-19 cases.
Presidential spokesperson Harry Roque said the president approved a recommendation by the Inter-Agency Task Force for the Management of Emerging Infectious Diseases (IATF) to extend the enhanced community quarantine (ECQ) in the National Capital Region (NCR) and the provinces of Bulacan, Cavite, Laguna, and Rizal.
If the situation in these areas improves after a week, the quarantine regulation could be downgraded to modified enhanced community quarantine (ECQ), Roque said.
“But we will first look at the results of the extended ECQ,” he said.
The independent OCTA Research group also recommended a one-week extension of the ECQ and even another if the surge would continue.
The previous week’s ECQ is “not enough,” said OCTA Research fellow Ranjit Rye at an online press briefing on Saturday.“We are definitely not out of the woods, and we need an additional week,” he said.
Guido David, another research fellow, said that if the reproduction rate of the coronavirus “does not drop dramatically in the next seven days,” the administration should consider a third week of ECQ.
The coronavirus has spread to many health workers, including 117 of 180 from the Philippine Orthopedic Center (POC) who had been tested, forcing the hospital to temporarily close its outpatient department and put elective surgeries on hold.
The Department of Health (DOH) has commissioned several hotels in Metro Manila to provide isolation rooms for at least 40 of the POC health workers positive for the coronavirus. Ten others were taken to a quarantine facility in Fairview, Quezon City.
Roque said that during the extended ECQ local governments were supposed to intensify their prevention, detection, isolation, tracing, and reintegration strategies.
These include visiting homes to look for people with COVID-19 symptoms, which are typically similar to the flu, and then testing and isolating those found positive for the SARS-CoV-2 virus, he said.
This will require “daily monitoring” by the local governments and the concerned officials of the National Task Force Against COVID 19, Roque added.
The local governments should also improve the enforcement of quarantine measures, especially compliance with the minimum public health standards, he said.
The reproduction rate referred to by OCTA Research is the speed at which the coronovirus spreads — the higher the number, the faster the spread.
It had projected that it would be 1.5 come Easter Sunday, and further reduced to 1.2 if ECQ were extended for another week. It was 1.96 in the week before the ECQ was implemented on March 29.
Rye said it would be “extremely catastrophic” to relax quarantine restrictions now, especially with majority of hospitals in Metro Manila at critical occupancy levels.
“The conviction of OCTA has always been that if we are able to manage and mitigate transmissions, that is the only time we can truly jump-start the economy,” he said.
Fr. Nicanor Austriaco, another OCTA fellow who is a molecular biologist, said because patients who recover from the virus typically take seven days before they are confirmed positive, and 27 days to recover, they expect hospital occupancy rates to remain above 70 percent for the rest of April.
Roque said that to increase capacity to take care of patients, a 110-bed facility at Quezon Institute in Quezon City would open this week for moderate and severe cases.
Another 160 beds would be available next month also for such cases, he added.
He appealed to those eligible for the COVID-19 vaccine to have themselves inoculated.
A recent Pulse Asia survey showed only 16 percent of Filipinos were willing to be inoculated.
Roque said healthcare utilization, case numbers, and the local government monitoring reports would be the data that would be assessed in deciding the next quarantine status for Metro Manila and the four provinces in the succeeding weeks.
The Department of the Interior and Local Government would ensure the local governments provided reliable data from the communities while the Department of Labor and Employment and the Department of Trade and Industry would be in charge of getting data on the condition of workplaces and business establishments.
The Task Group on Management of Returning Overseas Filipinos is responsible for information on returning overseas Filipinos, Roque said.
More than 12 new cases
The announcement of the continuation of the ECQ in Metro Manila and the four provinces came as the DOH logged 12,576 new COVID-19 cases, bringing the country’s total case count to 784,043.
The number is the second-highest single-day case tally ever, behind only the 15,310 new cases recorded on Good Friday which included 3,709 late tallied cases meant to be reported on March 31.
Adjusted for the late cases, Black Saturday’s new case tally is the highest ever on record since the pandemic began. The previous highest daily count of 10,016 was reported on March 29.
The DOH said 599 patients have recovered, bringing the total number of survivors to 604,905. However, 103 died, raising the death toll to 13,423.
The deaths and recoveries left 165,715 active cases, the highest recorded since the pandemic began.
Of the active cases, 96.5 percent are mild, 2.2 percent asymptomatic, 0.5 percent severe, 0.5 percent critical and 0.30 percent moderate.
The DOH said the positivity rate on Saturday reached 24.2. percent, meaning nearly one in four tested individuals were testing positive for the coronavirus.
It said that after validation, 30 duplicate cases had been removed from the total case count and 48 tagged as recoveries were recorded as deaths.
According to the DOH, 60 percent of all beds in intensive care units across the country are in use, but their utilization rate in the national capital, the hardest-hit region, is much higher at 80 percent.
It said 73 percent of isolation beds in Metro Manila were occupied, higher than the national average of 47 percent.
Meanwhile, 43 percent of mechanical ventilators are in use in the whole country, 63 percent in the capital.
According to Sean Velchez, senior nurse and union president at POC, health workers themselves were having a hard time looking for facilities for their sick colleagues.
“We can only imagine how hard it is for ordinary families to go through the same thing. We can only imagine their mental anguish,” Velchez said, adding that they hope the situation in POC would prompt more testing.
John Andrew Michael Bengzon, the officer in charge of the hospital, said in a statement on Saturday that its emergency room would remain open to treat those needing immediate orthopedic care.
The hospital attends to 350 to 450 outpatients per day, Bengzon said in a statement.
He also appealed to the public for personal protective equipment, especially masks, as the staff needed to wear double masks.
POC, which has more than 1,300 employees, has conducted targeted testing of 90 employees weekly and this was doubled ahead of next week’s scheduled vaccination.Aside from the high number of cases among health workers, Velchez noted that this time around, the virus had infected employees in different departments, from specialists to clerks.
—With a report from Nikka G. Valenzuela
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