Tighter curbs sought in provincial COVID-19 hot spots
MANILA, Philippines — Even as the quarantine classification in the “NCR Plus” — composed of Metro Manila and the provinces of Bulacan, Cavite, Laguna and Rizal — was expected to be downgraded to regular general community quarantine (GCQ) starting June 16, medical frontliners in several provinces pushed for the upgrading of their quarantine status and stricter border controls to control an increase in COVID-19 cases.
A health official also called the situation in the National Capital Region (NCR) “fragile” and pushed for the gradual and slow lifting of restrictions to prevent another surge in infections.
In a Palace briefing on Monday, hours before the official announcement of the quarantine classification, presidential spokesperson Harry Roque said that President RODRIGO Duterte was expected to base his decision on the recommendation of the Inter-Agency Task Force for the Management of Emerging Infectious Diseases (IATF).
“If we base it on the health-care utilization rate that is below 50 percent as of now, the average attack rate, daily attack rate and two-week average attack rate which are all negative, there could be a lower classification. But I think this is not enough for modified GCQ, [although it] might be enough for normal GCQ. But let us wait for the recommendation,” Roque said.
But in a separate briefing, Health Undersecretary Maria Rosario Vergeire observed that, even though the number of daily detected COVID-19 cases in Metro Manila might have declined lately, it was going up in many areas.
She called for the gradual and slow lifting of restrictions in the country’s capital region to prevent a renewed surge in infections.
“The situation is very fragile. Any time we might again see rising cases if we are not careful,” she said in a press briefing. “We need to be very gradual. We need to do these things slowly. We will prioritize the essential services first before reopening the non-essentials.”
“We know and understand the call of our physicians, their fear of a repeat [of a surge in cases]. So we said, let’s do things slowly,” Vergeire said.
Situation in regions
In the Bicol region, medical groups asked Interior Secretary Eduardo Año for help “in upgrading the quarantine classification… particularly [of] the provinces of Albay, Camarines Sur and Sorsogon, including the cities of Legazpi, Naga and Sorsogon where the spike in cases had been mostly alarming… to enhanced community quarantine.”
The Albay Medical Society, Camarines Sur Medical Society, Philippine Medical Association-Bicol and Philippine College of Physicians-Bicol said in a joint letter on Monday that COVID-19 cases in the region had been growing “alarmingly” since late May.
“Despite the downward trend of cases in the NCR [Plus], the opposite is happening in the region. Unfortunately, most cases now are not linked to those with travel history nor from travelers coming from outside Bicol,” they said.
They added that the surge could be attributed to the lenient observance of minimum health protocols in establishments and the slow, inaccessible and inadequate testing being done by local governments.
They sought Año’s help since “some local officials” had disregarded restrictions like a ban on alcohol and cockfighting.
COVID-19 surges have also been recorded in many parts of the country, with independent research team OCTA flagging Dumaguete as the “area of most serious concern” due to a 129-percent growth rate in a week’s time and a 69.85 average daily attack rate that indicates the number of people to be infected out of every 100,000. (See related story in Regions, Page A8.)Other areas of concern include Iloilo City, Butuan, Tacloban and Polomolok.
Additional 6,426 cases
OCTA called for “stricter quarantine” in these “hot spots,” a move supported by former government adviser Dr. Tony Leachon who said that imposing border control and restricting people’s movements for two weeks could help contain the infections.
On Monday, an additional 6,426 confirmed cases pushed the country’s total COVID-19 cases to 1,322,053.
The DOH also reported 7,145 more recoveries, bringing the total to 1,240,112 although there were 57 deaths, including 10 which had been previously tagged as recoveries.
The number of active cases was at 59,096, of which 91.8 percent were mild, 3.9 percent asymptomatic, 1.28 percent moderate, 1.8 percent severe and 1.3 percent critical.
The DOH said 13.7 percent of the 41,244 people who had been tested were found positive for the virus with 10 laboratories failing to submit their data.
Earlier in the day, Trade Secretary Ramon Lopez said there would be a need for a “gradual and safe increase in operating capacity” should there be a shift to GCQ in Metro Manila.
“So it may not be the same GCQ as before, but certainly there is a bit of opening where we can, again, safely. We will just have to specify what will be the operating capacity per sector,” he said.
Lopez added that he would recommend to the IATF that gyms, fitness studios and indoor-noncontact sports venues in the NCR Plus area be allowed to reopen even without the safety seal required by the government for establishments to resume operations.
He said that gyms without the seal could operate at 20 percent of their capacity, which could be expanded further to 30 percent once they comply with the seal requirement.
The safety seal is intended to show that an establishment has complied with the government’s health protocols.
Shorter Metro Manila curfew
Metro mayors also unanimously agreed to shorten unified curfew hours to between midnight and 4 a.m., from the previous 10 p.m. to 4 a.m., beginning on June 15.
Metropolitan Manila Development Authority Chair Benhur Abalos said the decision was made after the daily COVID-19 attack rate and hospital bed occupancy decreased in the capital.
According to him, the average daily attack rate—the percentage of a population infected with the virus in NCR—was currently at 6.76, significantly lower compared to 15.9 in March.
Metro hospitals now also have a lower bed occupancy rate of 36.3 percent, he added. Abalos said the shorter curfew would benefit businesses as it would “give more time for people to eat at restaurants, for malls to operate… and would really help the economy.”
But at the same time, the mayors were “ready” to strictly implement minimum health protocols to prevent another surge in cases, he added.
“We will become stricter. If there’s a surge in a certain area, then mayors will immediately address it. What happened in March [was] a nightmare, and we are now more alert,” he said.
In March, the country suffered a sudden surge in COVID-19 cases due to the more infectious variants of the virus, which led to the implementation of stricter quarantine measures.
—WITH REPORTS FROM MEG ADONIS AND DONA Z. PAZZIBUGAN
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