Researchers from the University of the Philippines projected that the number of COVID-19 cases in the country could top 85,000 by the end of July with deaths rising to 2,200, even as health officials reported 2,498 more cases on Thursday, the biggest tally in a single day.
The report, presented to President Rodrigo Duterte, said the projections were based on the assumption that the virus’ current reproduction number will remain the same and government interventions will not change significantly.
The new report bumps up the earlier projection of 60,000 to 70,000 cases by July 31 from the same UP group, due to an increase in transmission rates.
The UP researchers said the virus’ reproduction number in the Philippines, or the number of people an infected person could pass the virus to, is around 1.75 and increasing.
In their last forecast late June, the reproduction number was 1.28.
To flatten the curve, the reproduction number should be less than one. A value higher than one indicates the pandemic is spreading, the report said.
In the National Capital Region, the researchers said the number of cases, the positivity rate, and the utilization of hospital resources have all increased, indicating a “genuine surge” that could overwhelm hospitals. The virus’ reproduction number in the NCR is 1.75.
The report said, if Metro Manila remains under general community quarantine (GCQ)—which it will, until at least July 31—the number of cases in the National Capital Region could reach 40,000 by the end of July and over 80,000 with 2,800 deaths by the end of August.
In a modified enhanced community quarantine (MECQ), the reproduction number could go down to about 1.1 by the end of the month (with 35,000 projected cases) and close to one by the end of August (with 56,000 projected cases and 1,900 deaths), the researchers said.
They said the positivity rate in Metro Manila has increased to about 12 percent from 6 percent in May, both above the 5 percent recommended by the World Health Organization.
“This surge, if left unabated, poses a real danger of the virus leading not just to exponential growth in the number of cases and deaths but also to overwhelm the healthcare system in the NCR,” they said.
They recommended either sustaining the GCQ with provisions for “more aggressive and effective localized lockdowns” and scaled-up testing, tracing, isolation and treatment; or tightening restrictions through a 14-day MECQ “with emphasis on stricter compliance with minimal public health standards.”
In Cebu, the reproduction number had decreased while the province was under ECQ, the strictest quarantine level.
The reproduction rate in the province is at 1.14, down from 2 in the previous UP report, owing to stricter quarantine, ramped up testing, tracing, isolation and treatment strategies, the report said.
Cebu province is “on the way to flattening the epidemic curve,” researchers said, recommending the continuation of strict quarantine to sustain gains.
Cebu City will be under MECQ until July 31.
“If an ECQ or MECQ status is sustained in Cebu City for another 14 days, then the whole province will be on a trajectory towards flattening its epidemic curve,” the researchers said. “We believe that this option will work in the NCR as well.”
Apart from the NCR and Cebu, they said Basilan, Bulacan, Cavite, Laguna, Leyte and Rizal remain high-risk areas.
The researchers concluded that there is a “very significant community transmission” in the country, with national and local trends pointing to a “significant surge” in transmissions.
They cautioned the government against “prematurely downgrading” the quarantine status in Cebu City and in the NCR.
“Whatever quarantine decisions the government chooses to implement, we continue to reiterate our past recommendations, front and center of the strategy against COVID-19 has always hinged on increased testing, tracing, and the establishment of more quarantine and other isolation facilities especially in hotspots within the region,” they said.
They urged the government to invest more in laboratory capacity and ensure a faster turnaround time of test results, saying an effective scaling up of the testing, tracing, treatment and isolation strategy is “key to controlling the spread of the virus.”
“So much work still needs to be done,” they said.
The report was written by Guido David, Ranjit Singh Rye, Ma. Patricia Agbulos, and Rev. Fr. Nicanor Austriaco, with contributions from Erwin Alampay, Eero Rosini Brillantes, Bernhard Egwolf, Rodrigo Angelo Ong, Michael Tee, and Benjamin Vallejo, Jr.
The Department of Health (DOH) reported 2,498 more infections Thursday, the highest so far, and brought total cases to more than 61,266. Of Thursday’s total, 1,246 were “fresh” or newly validated cases while 1,252 were reported late.
The five provinces with the highest number of new cases were Metro Manila with 1,886, Cebu with 198, Cavite with 57, Davao del Sur with 44, and Laguna with 44.
Total recoveries rose to 21,440 after 467 more patients recovered from the respiratory disease, while the death toll climbed to 1,643 with 29 new fatalities.
Of the 29 deaths, eight were (28 percent) in July, 19 (66 percent) were in June, and two (7 percent) were in May. Deaths were from Region 7 (16 or 55 percent), NCR (nine or 31 percent), Region 11 (three or 10 percent) and CARAGA (one or 3 percent).
There are 38,183 active cases undergoing treatment or quarantine, 90.7 percent of which are mild, 8.5 percent of which are asymptomatic, 0.4 percent of which are severe, and 0.5 percent of which are in critical condition.
The DOH said figures reported on Thursday were based on data submitted by 71 out of the 84 operational laboratories.
Metro Manila mayors vowed to impose stricter quarantine protocols to curb the rise in COVID-19 cases, Interior Secretary Eduardo Año said on Thursday.
President Rodrigo Duterte initially wanted to move Metro Manila back to a modified enhanced community quarantine based on the recommendation of experts from the University of the Philippines (UP) but decided that the metropolis will remain under GCQ after mayors vowed to implement more proactive restrictions.
Noting that he is frequently meeting with Metro Manila mayors, Año said he recognizes their sentiments on gradually opening up the economy without compromising public health.
“They will give businesses the chance to reopen but this will be subject to the strict implementation of all protocols. We will give passes to those who are allowed to move or travel, especially employees while we will be stricter on those who are not allowed to go out,” he said in Filipino in a radio interview.
Año warned residents of Metro Manila over the possible re-implementation of the strict MECQ if they continue to violate protocols.
“We expect a stricter enforcement here in NCR (National Capital Region) and we continue to remind our fellowmen to comply with the protocols because we need to be vigilant and if we do not comply, we might revert to MECQ,” he added.
The strict enforcement of quarantine rules will discourage those without any essential business in going out of their homes, Año said.
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In case the situation does not improve after the July 31 deadline, Año said President Duterte will have no choice but to revert the NCR to the more restricted community quarantine.
Aside from Metro Manila, Duterte also placed the following areas under GCQ: Laguna, Cavite, and Rizal for Region 4-A (Calabarzon); Lapu Lapu City, Mandaue City for Region 7 (Central Visayas), Ormoc City, Southern Leyte, Zamboanga City, Butuan City, Agusan del Norte and Basilan.
The cities of Talisay, Minglanilla, and Consolacion in Cebu province will also be under GCQ.
Parañaque City Mayor Edwin Olivarez on Thursday ordered the city police and all barangay officials to strictly enforce health protocols after the city recorded a total of 1,787 confirmed cases of individuals with COVID-19.
Olivarez also directed city police commander Col. Robin Sarmiento to file necessary charges against parents who allow their children to go outside their residence without face masks and during curfew hours.
The city chief executive was disappointed upon learning from the City Health Office that the number of confirmed COVID-19 cases have reached to 1,787 within a week with 742 (42.6 percent) active cases.
Despite being placed under a three-day calibrated lockdown, Barangay BF had the highest number of confirmed cases at 295. The active cases have reached 177 cases with 11 fatalities, the highest recorded deaths in the city’s barangays.
Olivarez, who is the incumbent chairman of the Metro Manila Council, has recommended to the Inter-Agency Task Force for the Management of Emerging Infectious Diseases (IATF) the extension of the general community quarantine (GCQ) in the National Capital Region
The suggestion of the mayors was approved Wednesday night by President Duterte.
Olivarez, however, said thousands of residents particularly in slum areas are hardheaded, uncooperative and not following health authorities.
“They don’t fear being infected with COVID-19, so maybe it is time to use an iron hand,” Olivarez said.
A city ordinance slaps quarantine violators with a P1,000 fine and six-hour detention on first offense; P2,000 and nine-hour detention on second offense; and P3,000 and nine hours imprisonment on third offense.
Olivarez also ordered all police block commanders to apprehend minors violating curfew hours and the city ordinance on the wearing of face masks.
Malacañang on Thursday admitted that flattening the curve of COVID-19 cases did not happen after the country reopened the economy, placing many areas, including Metro Manila and Calabarzon where about 67 percent of the country’s economy is based, under the less strict general community quarantine (GCQ).
Palace spokesman Harry Roque said the spread of COVID-19 was restrained while most areas in the country were still under the most restrictive enhanced community quarantine (ECQ) in the months of March to May, but the virus was observed to surge after the government slowly reopened the economy.
“We have not actually flattened the curve, we slowed it down tremendously as a result of ECQ and MECQ, but with intensified testing and I guess with the reopening of the economy, the cases increased anew,” he said.
However, the Palace official added that new policies— particularly the increased testing protocols— were not “necessarily negative altogether,” as these would help authorities in contact tracing and isolation procedures.
Also on Thursday, Health Undersecretary Maria Rosario Vergeire said when Health Secretary Francisco Duque III said they had managed to flatten the curve on COVID-10, that meant they were able to prepare the health system for a spike in cases.
Duque said Wednesday that the Philippines “successfully flattened the curve since April.” Hours later, he said that what he meant was that there was a lull in cases during April following a Luzon-wide lockdown which began mid-March.
In a separate statement, the DOH on Thursday said Duque’s statement was based on the reported lengthening of the case doubling time, or the time it takes for the number of cases to double.
In other developments:
• The Philippine General Hospital on Thursday said they have reached 196 admissions, their highest so far into the COVID-19 pandemic. Dr. Jonas del Rosario said PGH has stopped accepting severe to critically ill patients.
• The Palace dismissed as “nothing new” the recommendations of Vice President Leni Robredo on how to fight COVID-19. Roque said Robredo’s suggestions have already been done by the Inter-Agency Task Force for the Management of Emerging Infectious Disease (IATF). Among Robredo’s suggestions was the procurement of more test kits, better handling of locally stranded individuals, improving the reporting of cases, and adoption of service contracting for jeepney drivers affected by the pandemic.
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