Experts from the University of the Philippines (UP) on Monday recommended a month-long enhanced community quarantine (ECQ) for Metro Manila---one level tougher than the curent two-week modified ECQ (MECQ)—to slow the spread of the coronavirus disease.
READ: New cases top 3,000-mark amid tighter controls
This developed as the Department of Health (DOH) on Monday reported a new record-high of 6,958 additional cases in a single day, bringing total COVID-19 cases in the country to 136,638.
With 633 additional recovered patients and 24 new COVID-related deaths, the country's active COVID-19 cases—patients who are still infected with the coronavirus and are staying either at a hospital or under home quarantine—stood at 66,186.
In recommending a monthlong ECQ, Dr. Ranjit Rye of the UP-OCTA Research team cited the high positivity and critical care utilization rates in the National Capital Region despite a slight lag in community transmission.
“The template that we can follow is Cebu (City). In Cebu, after one and a half months of very strict quarantines, they were able to hammer down the rate of transmission,” Rye said in a GMA News report.
The NCR was already under ECQ from March 12 to May 31, but government relaxed the lockdowns to allow the economy to restart.
However, Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana, chairman of the National Task Force Against COVID-19, on Monday said Metro Manila is ready to return to the less strict general community quarantine (GCQ) as the number of COVID-19 cases is slowly declining.
"I think the trend is going down, yesterday (Sunday) there were only 3,000 new cases, down from 6,000 previously. So, I think we are ready to go down," Lorenza said in an interview on ANC’s Headstart on Monday.
In a report to President Rodrigo Duterte —who was expected to speak on the issue late Monday—the UP experts noted that the surge in Cebu "has been reversed” with only 92 new cases reported daily from the previous 176, a reproduction number of 0.54, and a positivity rate of 7%.
The reproduction number, which should be lower than 1, refers to the average number of people that one COVID-19 patient can infect, while the positivity rate should be equal to or lower than 5%, according to the World Health Organization.
“These are very positive things and if they can continue that and sustain that, we will see that Cebu will open up, its economy will open up, and it’s going to look forward to a brighter Christmas,” Rye said.
The total number of COVID-19 recoveries is at 68,159, while the total number of fatalities is 2,293.
The DOH said that majority or 83% of the additional cases were from the last two weeks.
Most of the 6,958 are from the National Capital Region (4,163), while the rest are from Laguna (400), Rizal (363), Cavite (312) and Bulacan (178). There are also 254 cases among returning overseas Filipinos.
“Our case clustering report showed that there are 380 clusters in NCR; 305 (80%) are in the communities and 34 (9%) in health facilities. CALABARZON has 174 case clusters and Region 7 with 171 case clusters – majority were also in communities,” the DOH said.
The additional cases are based on data from 74 out of 99 accredited testing laboratories.
READ: Google Philippines adds more COVID-19 testing centers on Maps
President Rodrigo Duterte on Aug. 2 approved the recommendation to revert Metro Manila, Cavite, Laguna, Rizal and Bulacan to second most stringent MECQ from Aug. 4 to 18 after medical frontliners called for a timeout to allow the government to recalibrate its COVID-19 response efforts.
Lorenzana said the country cannot continue imposing lockdowns, as these would further hurt the economy, which suffered deepest contraction in 29 years after gross domestic product shrank 16.5 percent in the second quarter this year.
“Just yesterday, Finance Secretary (Carlos) Dominguez (III) said we must do something to open up the economy. We cannot go on imposing more lockdowns as many more people might die of hunger than of COVID-19 if people will no longer have jobs," he said in Filipino.
Lorenzana said Phase 2 of the National Action Plan to combat COVID-19 is already in place since Aug. 1 and some of its strategies include identifying areas with outbreaks and containing them.
The plans were approved by the Inter-Agency Task Force for the Management of Emerging Infectious Disease (IATF) and aim to prevent lockdowns of towns or cities if outbreak areas can be identified.
Lorenzana said the strategies will also minimize disruption caused by quarantine measures.
Presidential spokesman Harry Roque said the government will have to decide the difficult trade-off between the health and the economic after the 14-day MECQ in Metro Manila and four other nearby provinces expires on Aug. 18.
Roque said the final decision will depend on the recommendation of the IATF.
“It would be a difficult decision to be made by the IATF because we need to balance between health and economy of the nation,” Roque said.
He added that the Palace will have to wait to assess the MECQ because its effects will not be felt immediately.
Roque made the statement in response to House committee on health chairwoman Quezon Rep. Angelina Tan, who said the two-week “timeout” granted to the medical community is not enough to address the problems in the country’s health care system.
Roque said last week that a prolonged lockdown could lead to grave economic consequences. The economy plunged into a recession after gross domestic product shrank 16.5 percent in the second quarter as strict lockdowns shuttered businesses.
On Sunday, Joint Task Force COVID Shield commander, Lt. Gen. Guillermo Eleazar called on persons with travel exemptions during the MECQ to not abuse the privilege given them.
Citing reports from police officers manning various quarantine control points, Eleazar said some of those given exemption, including the ID cards issued by the IATF, use it as an excuse to "deliberately violate" the strict quarantine rule on non-essential travel.
“They should not use this exemption to engage in travels that are not connected to their job because this is really unfair to the majority of our countrymen who are strictly abiding by the government’s prohibition not to engage in non-essential travels in this time of pandemic,” Eleazar said in a statement.
The IATF exempted from quarantine restrictions groups or workers whose nature of the job is classified as a necessity to provide basic needs and services of people required to stay home. Those given exemptions are listed as authorized persons outside residence (APOR).
To be listed as APOR, a person must be working as a front-liner in the fight against the coronavirus and working for industries permitted by the government to operate and presence outside of their communities and their travels must be work-related. With PNA
These were either issued identification cards by the IATF for exemption from community quarantine or are just allowed to present their company identification cards or other documents as proof of employment.
“The main and only reason behind the exemption from community quarantine is for them to go to their places of work because the nature of their jobs is essential to provide the basic goods and services to our people under community quarantine, and for them to go back to their homes,” Eleazar said.
He instructed the local police commanders to task their personnel supervising and manning the control points to scrutinize the identification cards and other documents presented to them, particularly on the home address and place of work, in order to determine whether or not the travel is essential. With PNAREAD: PH posts over 4,000 new COVID-19 cases
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