Metro Manila is poised to revert to a modified enhanced community quarantine (MECQ) by next month, as coronavirus cases continue to surge.
Palace spokesperson Harry Roque said Wednesday the return to MECQ from the current general community quarantine (GCQ) in the National Capital Region and other areas may happen if the number of COVID-19 cases in the country reach 85,000 by the end of July, as projected by experts from the University of the Philippines (UP).
“That’s a distinct possibility, although it’s a possibility that I wish would not happen,” said Roque in an interview with CNN Philippines
That was likely to happen, the same UP experts said Wednesday, as the actual numbers are already well past their updated “low” estimate of 67,500 cases by July 31.
The Department of Health (DOH) announced Wednesday that the nationwide COVID total was at 72,269 after 1,594 new confirmed cases were reported yesterday.
The number of people who recovered from the contagious disease rose by 342 to 23,623. The DOH also reported six new fatalities, bringing the death toll to 1,843.
The country has averaged 1,565 new cases a day over the last 14 days or since July 9, DOH data shows. Assuming the average holds and the government does not change the current lockdown regulations, total cases would reach over 86,300 by July 31, which is nine days away, the experts noted.
“It (MECQ) might happen,” said Professor Guido David of the UP Institute of Mathematics and OCTA Research Team.
“Our conservative estimate is that this (trend) will continue for the following days up to August 1, and the average of our projected values is at 76,000,” UP Los Baños assistant professor Darwin Bandoy, David’s teammate, said.
Bandoy said the Philippines’ reproductive number currently stands at 1.07, meaning that each COVID-19-positive individual can infect more than one person. To flatten the curve, the reproduction number should be less than one. A value higher than one indicates the pandemic is spreading, the UP team said.
Bandoy noted that the continued rise in infections is being driven by increased community transmission, and recorded by rising testing capacity. The professor stressed that the purpose of their projections is to change the behavior of people and let them know that if they don’t comply with minimum health standards during the pandemic, the potential that cases will continue to rise is high.
David said he is hoping that like Cebu City, Metro Manila could flatten the curve once the government revisits placing the region under MECQ from the current GCQ after July 31.
“That would be the decision of the government (for a stricter status). What we have observed in Cebu City is, Cebu was able to slow down the spread of the disease and to flatten the curve,” he told the Standard.
“That is one possibility (the stricter MECQ). I know it is not the only solution. The government is trying different methods, such as a surgical lockdown and mass testing. Isolation is important. Home quarantine does not work,” David said.
“Should other methods not work, our healthcare system is to be overwhelmed. Nothing more. We could run out of options. If we reach 85,000 (by end of July), our hospitals would be fully occupied,” he added.
Moreover, David said: “We have fears for our frontliners. We cannot restart business (completely) until we have wiped out COVID-19.”
Home to 12 million people, Metro Manila has remained under the more relaxed GCQ since June 1.
But Roque said a tougher lockdown would result in economic difficulty, since the country could not afford another shutdown.
“If we have to and there’s no alternative, we need to do it,” he said.
Roque reiterated President Rodrigo Duterte’s appeal to all Filipinos to cooperate with the government and folow health protocols.
“I’m confident that the Filipinos actually will cooperate to [an] even greater degree than they have shown. Yesterday, I announced that we’re second in the world as far as wearing face masks is concerned, and that shows that the Filipinos will cooperate when they have to,” he said.
On Wednesday, the five areas with the highest number of new cases were Metro Manila with 971, Cebu with 252, Zamboanga Del Sur with 53, Negros Occidental with 35, and Rizal with 26.
The DOH said 46,803 active cases are undergoing treatment or quarantine, 90.1 percent of which are mild, 9 percent are asymptomatic, 0.5 percent are severe, and 0.4 percent in critical condition.
Figures reported Wednesday were based on data submitted by 78 out of the 89 operational laboratories, the department said.