The independent OCTA Research Group on Wednesday has recommended retaining in June the general community quarantine (GCQ) status of the National Capital Region (NCR) and four neighboring provinces included in the NCR Plus bubble.
OCTA Research fellows Prof. Guido David and Fr. Nicanor Austriaco said that while cases in NCR Plus -- Metro Manila, Bulacan, Cavite, Laguna, and Rizal -- had decreased, “the numbers are still high.”
“While we believe that we can relax restrictions, we think that we should try to retain the GCQ at this time because the (COVID-19) cases are still significant,” David said in an online forum.
NCR Plus is currently under “GCQ with heightened restrictions” until the end of May.
Some of the “heightened restrictions” could be relaxed to allow more businesses to operate at a higher capacity, said David.
OCTA said it was too early to loosen restrictions in NCR Plus to modified GCQ, the least stringent lockdown classification.
“In fact, back in February, we were at 400 cases [in Metro Manila] per day but we were still in GCQ, so it doesn’t seem to be the time to relax to MGCQ at this time. It also gives us the wrong messaging to the people,” David said.
“We want to avoid situations where people become very complacent because they feel that the situation has improved significantly, that there are no more cases, when in fact there are still cases,” David said.
Metro Manila averaged 1,099 new COVID-19 cases daily over the past week, 80 percent lower than during the peak of the surge in infections in April, said OCTA.
“That is about 80 percent lower than the average during the peak of the surge. The single-day peak was 8,000 but the daily average peak was 5,550, so this is a significant improvement,” David said.
David also said NCR's reproduction number, referring to the number of people that each COVID-19 case can infect, decreased to 0.53.
Its positivity rate has gone down to 10 percent from a high of 25 percent in April, he said.
The Philippines logged on Wednesday 5,310 new cases of coronavirus disease 2019, bringing the total to 1,193,976, as four laboratories were not able to submit their data on time, the Department of Health said.
Based on data in the last 14 days, the four non-reporting labs contribute, on average, 1.1 percent of samples tested and 1.7 percent of positive individuals, the DOH said.
The DOH also reported 150 new fatalities, bringing the death toll to 20,169. It also listed 7,408 newly-recovered patients, bringing the total recoveries to 1,127,770.
The department also said 46,037 cases were active, of which 92.5 percent were mild, 2.1 percent were asymptomatic, 1.7 percent were critical, 2.2 percent were severe, and 1.51 percent were moderate.
David also said the National Capital Region’s reproduction number, that refers to the number of persons that each COVID-19 case can infect, decreased to 0.53 while its positivity rate has gone down to 10 percent from a high of 25 percent in April.
“Obviously, we want to sustain this. Then again, we should remind everyone that even though we have made significant improvements, the NCR will always be at risk of another surge… that’s why the focus right now is on vaccinations,” David said.
The surge in COVID cases prompted the national government to put NCR, as well as the adjacent provinces of Laguna, Cavite, Rizal and Bulacan, under the enhanced community quarantine (ECQ) in late March.
The classification was later on downgraded to modified ECQ, then to the current general community quarantine (GCQ) "with heightened restrictions."
Surge due to variants
While the National Capital Region is seeing a downtrend of COVID-19 cases at 80 percent than the peak of the surge, the OCTA Research Group warned it remained at risk of another surge due to variants of the virus.
The different variants of the COVID-19 could trigger another increase in coronavirus cases if we let our guard down, Guido said.
"The variants are coming... complacency may lead to another surge at this point in time. While not vaccinated fully, that will happen. So, our focus now is on the vaccine," related Guido during a Zoom media briefing.
However, David said they did not know when the spike in coronavirus cases would happen.
David also reported Quezon City, Zamboanga, Manila, Pasig, and Davao City logged the highest number of new COVID-19 cases over the past week.
Despite this, he said most cities posted a negative case growth rate, except for Davao City whose infections grew by 49 percent.
Quezon City and Zamboanga also posted high hospital occupancy rates of 62 percent and 70 percent, respectively.