Año, OCTA: Longer MECQ in NCR Plus to sustain drop in cases
MANILA, Philippines — Interior Secretary Eduardo Año and the OCTA Research Group on Tuesday supported the extension of the current lockdown status for Metro Manila and four nearby provinces to sustain the downtrend in new COVID-19 cases.
Año said he was referring to the drop in the number of COVID-19 cases from a high of 10,000 to a little over 8,000 daily and the decrease in the health service utilization rate of the critical care units in hospitals in the National Capital Region and the provinces of Bulacan, Cavite, Laguna and Rizal—the so-called NCR Plus hardest hit by the current surge in coronavirus infections.
“For me to continue this good trend, we should extend the MECQ (modified enhanced community quarantine,” Año said in an interview with ABS-CBN’s Teleradyo.
“But, of course, this will be a very deliberate discussion later (on Tuesday) and whatever the collective consensus or agreement of the IATF (Inter-Agency Task Force for the Management of Emerging Infectious Diseases) and whatever the President decides, we will abide by that,” he said.
OCTA on Tuesday recommended a one-week extension of the MECQ in NCR Plus to “allow the ongoing decrease in daily case numbers to stabilize.”
The independent research group said there were “uneven” decreases in the number of new cases among localities within the NCR Plus area.
Average daily cases
The group said Metro Manila in particular was averaging 3,500 new cases daily and it projected the number to go down to less than 2,688 a day in two weeks “based on current trends.”
It was concerned that a “premature return” to the less restrictive general community quarantine (GCQ) would trigger spikes in some cities and towns, which could overflow to nearby areas.
Año favored a more “conservative” view in considering whether to maintain or downgrade the current lockdown status for NCR Plus, but that the IATF must also consider data from health experts as well as economic and social factors.
He said local chief executives in Metro Manila have not yet submitted their recommendation.
“One more week of an MECQ will continue to force down the reproduction number to decongest our hospitals more quickly,” OCTA said.
Despite the gradual decrease in the number of new COVID-19 cases, NCR hospitals remain at critical capacity, with 43 hospitals and infirmaries at 100 percent capacity as of April 24, according to data from the Department of Health (DOH), it said.
OCTA said 59 hospitals and infirmaries were also still above critical risk capacity.
The group said if the reproduction rate of the virus went down to 0.8, “hospital occupancy will drop to pre-surge levels by the third week of May.”
A reproduction number of 1 or higher indicates sustained transmission of the virus. It was down to 0.90 on Tuesday from a high of 1.96 the week before the government imposed enhanced community quarantine in NCR Plus.
OCTA also said reopening the economy further and easing into general community quarantine at this time will likely increase viral transmissions as people interact with each other again.
“To prevent the surge from resurging, we will need to enhance our testing, contact tracing, and quarantine and isolation procedures to mitigate this transmission,” the group siad.
In addition to lowering the reproduction rate of the virus further, another week of MECQ will give the national government “additional time” to enhance its contact tracing capacity and finish construction of new quarantine and isolation facilities, it said.
On Tuesday, the DOH recorded 7,204 new infections, pushing the total number of cases in the country to 1,013,618. It was the ninth straight day of daily infections numbering under 10,000.
It said 10,109 patients had recovered from the severe respiratory disease, bringing the total number of survivors to 925,027. However, 63 died, raising the death toll to 16,916. It was the second day in a row on Tuesday that fatalities numbered less than a 100.
The recoveries and deaths left 71,675 active cases, the lowest since March 18, when there were 61,733.
Of the total active cases, 95.2 percent are mild, 1.5 percent asymptomatic, 1.3 percent severe, 1.1 percent critical and 0.9 percent moderate.
The number of active cases went down after April 19 when the DOH shifted to a daily “time-based” tagging of recoveries. The health department now assumes that mild or asymptomatic cases will be tagged as recoveries, provided that they do not worsen over a 10-day period.
Concerns have emerged on social media that the DOH’s decision to tweak the reporting protocol for recoveries would result in “questionable” data.
The DOH said in a statement on Tuesday night that it recognized the value of a data-driven response to the pandemic and that it was striving to provide more accurate and near real-time data, and that it “will not, in any way, manipulate the country’s COVID-19 data.”
It explained that cases to be tagged as recoveries are “endorsed” daily to the concerned Epidemiology and Surveillance Units, and that for many cases, there is a “lead time of seven days or less from the onset of symptoms to the date when the cases are reported.”
Subscribe to INQUIRER PLUS to get access to The Philippine Daily Inquirer & other 70+ titles, share up to 5 gadgets, listen to the news, download as early as 4am & share articles on social media. Call 896 6000.