Independent researchers tracking the COVID-19 pandemic on Tuesday urged the government to impose a “circuit-breaking” lockdown to stop a new surge of infections due to the highly transmissible Delta variant of the coronavirus.
OCTA Research fellow Guido David said in Metro Manila, which is tallying about 1,000 cases a day, the COVID-19 reproduction rate—or the number of people that a patient with the respiratory disease is likely to infect -- has gone up to 1.33.
"We should adapt what Australia and New Zealand are doing now, which is basically, 'go early and go hard'… this means having anticipatory, preventive, circuit-breaking lockdowns,” added OCTA fellow Ranjit Rye.
“We think that if we do this over the next two weeks, especially this week or next week, we will not only bring down cases, we'll save the economy, too,” Rye said in a televised public briefing.
Authorities "will lose effective control of the epidemic" if the Delta variant spreads, he said.
Rye listed as examples Indonesia, India, and Thailand, which he said did "too little, too late" to contain the Delta variant.
“We should be proactive and careful. We should calculate the cost if we postpone the lockdown, how many months we will close, how many will be infected and die,” he said in Filipino.
Both David and Rye warned the public against dining out or engaging in social gatherings given the presence of the Delta variant.
"Let us avoid social gatherings, dining out, because there is a high possibility that you can be infected with the virus especially when you are not yet vaccinated," Rye said.
"Once the vaccine is available, get vaccinated because this is really the long-term solution to the COVID-19 problem," Rye added.
Meanwhile, Palace spokesman Harry Roque said the COVID-19 task force is now recommending changes in community quarantine classifications every 15 days, instead of a monthly basis.
“We monitor the situation every week, and we will not hesitate to impose stricter lockdowns because we know that is the only answer,” said Roque, who also serves as spokesman of the Inter-Agency Task Force for the Management of Emerging Infectious Diseases (IATF).
"At the same time, though, we realize that what we are seeking or aiming for is the total health of the population—controlling the spread of the new Delta variant, at the same time preventing hunger among our compatriots," he said during a press briefing.
With more than 1.5 million coronavirus cases and more than 27,000 deaths, the Philippines has the second worst outbreak in Southeast Asia.
The Delta variant, which is known to be twice more contagious than other mutations of COVID-19, has been confirmed to have infected at least 119 Filipinos as of this month.
President Rodrigo Duterte said he could not completely rule out stricter curbs if the spread of the Delta variant gets worse, but he also said the country could no longer afford more lockdowns.
He also called on the public to get vaccinated.
The Philippines has so far fully immunized about 5 percent of its 109 million population, data shows.
The Philippines logged 7,186 new COVID-19 cases on Tuesday -- the highest in over a month -- bringing the total number of infections to 1,562,420.
Seventy-two new fatalities brought the COVID-19 death toll to 27,318.
The Department of Health (DOH) reported 5,672 persons who recently recovered, bringing the total recoveries to 1,478,625.
There were 56,477 active cases, of which 93.8 percent were mild, 1.1 percent were asymptomatic, 1.3 percent were critical, 2.3 percent were severe, and 1.58 percent were moderate.
Nationwide, 58 percent of ICU beds, 48 percent of isolation beds, 45 percent of ward beds, and 39 percent of ventilators, were in use.
In Metro Manila, 47 percent of ICU beds, 40 percent of isolation beds, 39 percent of ward beds, and 37 percent of ventilators, were in use.
Health Secretary Francisco Duque III said Metro Manila already had nearly a 50 percent increase in new cases this week, saying this was a wake-up call for local governments.
“Here in NCR, our cases increased by 47 percent this week compared to the previous week,” Duque said.
Duque said Metro Manila posted “a little over 900” new cases per day in the past week.
Because of this, he called for “aggressive” case finding, testing, and contact tracing to stem COVID-19 transmission.
Duque also agreed with the recommendation of the OCTA Research Group to implement “circuit breakers” amid local transmission of the highly contagious Delta variant.
However, he said that such measures still need to be discussed by medical experts and the IATF.
The government had earlier tightened restrictions in Metro Manila, Ilocos Norte, Ilocos Sur, Davao del Norte, and Davao de Oro amid the threat of the Delta variant.
Metro Manila is under general community quarantine "with heightened restrictions" from July 23 to 31.
Meanwhile, the Laguna Provincial Health Officer (PHO) Dr. Rene Bagamasbad said up to 17 cases of Delta variant have been recorded in three cities and three towns in this province. Three cases were recorded in San Pedro City, three in Calamba, six in San Pablo, two in Bay, one in Los Baños and two in Lumban.
Also on Tuesday, the University of the Philippines-National Institutes of Health said the satellite facilities of the Philippine Genome Center in the Visayas and Mindanao need P50 million each to be able to conduct genome sequencing.
UP-NIH chief Dr. Eva Maria Cutiongco-de la Paz said she and PGC Executive Director Dr. Cynthia Saloma studied how much funding the Visayas and Mindanao facilities would need to sequence samples to detect coronavirus variants.
Saloma said the funds would be used to purchase genome sequencing equipment and kits.
She said this would allow PGC Visayas and Mindanao to sequence 50 samples each per week.
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