‘There’s hope’ if ECQ is extended – OCTA Research Group
MANILA, Philippines — The independent OCTA Research Group on Saturday said the strictest lockdown measure imposed in Metro Manila and four nearby provinces over the past two weeks helped bring down the growth rate of the coronavirus.
It said the enhanced community quarantine (ECQ) was effective in reducing the growth rate and reproduction number of the virus in the National Capital Region (NCR).
“There is hope that the NCR will be on a downward trend by next week,” OCTA said.
The ECQ in the NCR and the provinces of Bulacan, Cavite, Laguna and Rizal—the so-called NCR Plus area hardest hit by the current surge in cases—should be continued for at least one more week to help control the contagion, the group said.
Negative growth rate
In its report to the Inter-Agency Task Force for the Management of Emerging Infectious Diseases (IATF), OCTA said it observed negative one-week virus growth rates in the cities of Pasay, Marikina, Mandaluyong, Taguig, Manila, Makati, Las Piñas, Valenzuela and Quezon City—but “barely” in Parañaque and Caloocan.
It said the trend was “very encouraging” but it was still too early to say whether there was a downward trend in these areas, noting that testing was 20 percent lower during the past Holy Week.
OCTA noted an overall decrease in the reproduction number of the virus in Metro Manila—from 1.88 percent before ECQ was imposed on March 29 to 1.23 percent during its second week.But it said the reproduction number in the national capital still indicated that “significant viral transmissions continue.”
“The average daily number of new cases of COVID-19 in the NCR Plus is still very high at 5,000 a day,” it said.
OCTA, a group of academics mostly from the University of the Philippines who have been observing the pandemic since last year, recommended the extension of the ECQ “to continue to slow down the surge, decongest our hospitals and relieve the pressure on our health-care workers.”
“OCTA believes that opening up NCR Plus prematurely would be a significant risk as it could accelerate the surge again. However, if ECQ extension cannot be considered for socioeconomic reasons, we are suggesting a minimum of two weeks of modified ECQ,” the group said.
12,674 new cases
The group made the recommendation on the same day that the Department of Health (DOH) reported 12,674 new infections, the most on a single day since the pandemic struck the country last year.
Presidential spokesperson Harry Roque did not disclose what recommendations were submitted to President Duterte by the IATF, the temporary government body handling the national health emergency.
Trade Secretary Ramon Lopez, an IATF member, said in a Viber message that he and the others had “good discussions” on a “long agenda” and had no disagreements. Roque said the President was “weighing the pros and cons before making his final decision regarding the quarantine classification of the National Capital Region Plus Area.”
“The Chief Executive would like to review and check pertinent information, such as the health-care utilization rate of the aforesaid area,” Roque said in a statement.
Ebb Hinchliffe, executive director of the American Chamber of Commerce of the Philippines, said they were hoping the quarantine restrictions would be lifted “especially for hotels and restaurants.”
“[We] wish the announcement could be as early as possible so businesses can properly staff their operations,” he said in a text message on Saturday.
OCTA expressed “continuing concern” about the “critical capacity” of the hospitals in NCR and the four provinces.
In Metro Manila, 86 percent of the intensive care unit (ICU) beds are occupied while 59 percent of mechanical ventilators are in use, the DOH said.
In addition, 69 percent of isolation beds and 58 percent of ward beds are also occupied, it said.
The OCTA report noted that all of Metro Manila’s local governments, except for Mandaluyong had hospital bed utilizations greater than 60 percent, while Taguig, Makati, Malabon, San Juan, Bacoor and Imus City in Cavite, Antipolo City in Rizal all had 100-percent ICU occupancy.
It also urged national authorities to work with local governments and the private sector to speed up inoculations in Metro Manila by opening more vaccination sites and deploying more personnel and volunteers to vaccination centers.
—WITH A REPORT FROM ROY C. CANIVEL
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