The Department of Health (DOH) announced 3,226 new cases of COVID-19 on Monday, bringing the total number of infections to 106,330, one day before Metro Manila and neighboring provinces are to return to more stringent quarantine restrictions.
READ: Rody okays shift to MECQ
The cases reported Monday were based on tests conducted by 66 out of 94 operational testing labs, the department said.
READ: 4,963 new virus cases put PH near 100kThere were 46 deaths reported Monday, bringing total fatalities to 2,104.
At the same time, health officials reported 275 new recoveries, bringing to 65,821 the number of patients who survived COVID-19.
In the last two weeks, the National Capital Region accounted for 50 percent or 1,267 of the cases reported. Region 4A accounted for 17 percent and Region 7, 14 percent.
Researchers from the University of the Philippines said the return of Metro Manila and surrounding provinces to a modified enhanced community quarantine (MECQ), the second strictest lockdown level, could slow down the spread of the coronavirus, but might not flatten the curve.
“That will help because the transmissions will be reduced,” said Guido David of the UP Institute of Mathematics and a member of the UP OCTA Research group. “When people go out, the risk of infection increases because more contacts happen.”
The MECQ from Aug. 4 to 18 will limit public transport and work in some industries, where coronavirus transmissions recently occurred, he told ABS-CBN's TeleRadyo.
READ: MGCQ halts public transport, restricts movements
“The spread will slow down, but if it’s flattening the curve, we may not be able to do it yet because the MECQ is too short. In Cebu, in took a month before they flattened the curve,” David said.
Local governments should ramp up the dissemination of MECQ guidelines, he said.
The MECQ, which covers Metro Manila, Cavite, Laguna, Rizal and Bulacan provinces, bans buses, jeepneys, taxis, ride-hailing services, and tricycles from plying the roads, and limits the operation of manufacturing plants and other establishments to half their capacity.
Even as Metro Manila slipped back into tighter restrictions, Malacañang said Monday the country is on the right track and the government is responding correctly to the pandemic.
“As long as there are a few people dying, we are doing the right thing. I think we are going on the right track with the MECQ,” said presidential spokesman Harry Roque, even as health officials reported 46 more deaths on Monday.
Roque's remarks came after President Rodrigo Duterte on Sunday ordered more stringent quarantine restrictions be imposed on Metro Manila and nearby provinces, upon the urging of the medical community, who said frontline health personnel need a breather.
Roque said strictly speaking, Metro Manila should not be placed under MECQ but said the President heeded the call of the medical community.
“The frontliners have spoken and as the President said, this war is against a disease. Who else will he send to war but our frontliners so we have to listen and heed their request,” Roque said in Filipino.
Health Undersecretary Maria Rosario Vergeire said the MECQ would buy the health care system some time to prepare for more COVID-19 patients.
“We are doing everything we can to respond to the rising number of COVID-19 cases in select areas in the Philippines,” she said in Filipino. “So if the question is are we winning? We are managing.”
The Health Department said Tuesday it is planning to get substitutes from provinces for the medical workers at the frontline of the coronavirus outbreak in Metro Manila.
Some of the DOH’s staff in its regional offices will be deployed to urban centers, Vergeire said.
The DOH will also announce a program for private health care professionals in other parts of the country who want to help in the National Capital Region, she said.
Health care workers earlier called on the government to give them at least two weeks of “breathing space” by shifting Metro Manila back to a strict lockdown.
Duterte did not opt for the strictest enhanced community quarantine (ECQ) that they wanted, but agreed to put Metro Manila under an MECQ.
During the MECQ, health workers will help barangay officers find coronavirus patients, Vergeire said.
“The barangays with many cases can expect our help.. that we will accompany you as you go house-to-house in what we call active case-finding to search for those who have symptoms, and those who need to be isolated or tested,” Vergeire said.
The DOH will also work with the Alliance of Healthcare Professionals to recalibrate pandemic protocols by Friday, she said.
“We call on everybody to be the solution. It is a significant behavioral change in all areas of our life that will keep us and our loved ones safe,” Vergeire said.
On Sunday night, Duterte said when a COVID-19 vaccine is available, he would use police stations as vaccination centers.
Duterte made the announcement Sunday evening, when he placed Metro Manila and neighboring provinces under an MECQ.
The President said the police should prepare the stations and make sure that they are clean and ready when the time for the vaccination comes.
The President earlier said that he would tap the military and police in the implementation of nationwide vaccination once a vaccine is available in the market, saying that China is in its phase III trials and that a vaccine would be available by December.
He said the police and the military will supervise the distribution and administration of the vaccines while health professionals, including uniformed nurses, will help as well.
Duterte said everyone will receive a vaccine shot as long as they are Filipinos.
Also on Monday, Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana announced plans to mobilize reservists with medical background to help health care workers in the efforts to contain the COVID-19 pandemic.
He made this announcement during a virtual press briefing shortly after the assumption ceremonies of newly-appointed Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) chief-of-staff Lt. Gen. Gilbert Gapay.
At present, Lorenzana said the AFP has 380 medical officers as reservists and another 5,368 enlisted reservist personnel with some medical training.
He added that he has already directed AFP headquarters to determine who among these individuals can be called into active duty.
Lorenzana also clarified that those reservists already working in the medical field and helping in COVID-19 containment efforts will not be activated.
In other developments:
• A group of health professionals warned on Monday that the massive use of rapid antibody tests could be one reason for the increase in coronavirus infections in the Philippines, as this is sometimes only 50 percent accurate. In an interview on ABS-CBN's TeleRadyo, Dr. Antonio Dans, spokesperson for the Healthcare Professions Alliance against COVID-19, said widespread use of rapid test kits by local governments and private offices as a requirement before workers can return to their jobs could have led to the rise in infections, because the test is “wrong 50 percent of the time.”
• Senator Sherwin Gatchalian said the government should use the MECQ to improve existing processes in the fight against COVID-19. In a statement, Gatchalian said the government should use technology for contact tracing, saying the internet and the cloud should be employed for accurate and timely data reporting. He added that temporary field hospitals in local government units (LGUs) should be set up for patients with mild symptoms, a “best practice” that other countries have adopted.
• Senator Panfilo Lacson said he was baffled by what “amulet” or magic potion Health Secretary Francisco Duque uses, because the President has waved off all calls for him to step down or be fired. Lacson noted that 14 senators have already asked Duque to resign over the poor response to the COVID-19 pandemic.
• The labor group Partido Manggagawa (PM) on Monday called on the government to distribute aid to workers who will be affected by the return of Metro Manila and nearby regions to a an MECQ. “Now President Duterte has imposed MECQ on Mega Manila, the millions of workers to be affected need a wage subsidy. The medical frontliners’ call for a timeout included the distribution of aid as part of a package of measures to win the war against COVID,” said Rene Magtubo, PM national chair.
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