A health expert urged the government to keep Metro Manila under a general community quarantine (GCQ) as COVID-19 infections rose to 304,226 on Sunday.
While the virus reproduction rate—or the number of people infected by each person carrying the coronavirus—has dropped to a point where it will eventually peter out, the country is still reporting about 3,000 new cases daily, said Dr. Tony Leachon, former adviser of the government's pandemic task force.
The virus reproduction rate is currently at .82 nationwide and .73 in Metro Manila, Leachon said, below the benchmark 1, at which point the virus could peter out.
But Leachon said the holiday season could bring more problems as more people go out.
“It's better to control this now so when the holidays come, we have what we call a sandbag and we can somehow decrease the cases,” he said in Filipino during an interview on ABS-CBN's TeleRadyo.
He said relaxing restrictions now could lead to a surge that would last until the Christmas season.
Researchers from the University of the Philippines have submitted their recommendation for another month-long GCQ in Metro Manila.
The Philippines on Sunday logged 2,995 new coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) cases bringing the total to 304,226, the Department of Health (DOH) reported.
This marks the sixth consecutive day where fewer than 3,000 cases were reported.
The DOH also reported 60 new fatalities, bringing the death toll from COVID-19 to 5,344.
The department logged 19,630 new recoveries, 18,892 of which were patients that had finished 14 days of quarantine and showed no symptoms—even though they were not tested again.
This brought active cases to 46,372, 86 percent of which were classified as mild and 8.8 percent of which were asymptomatic. Severe cases accounted for 1.6 percent of the total, while critical cases made up 3.7 percent.
The Philippines has the highest number of total cases in Southeast Asia despite implementing the longest and strictest lockdown in the region.
The government has said that it aims to flatten the COVID-19 curve by the end of September, or seven months after the first infection was reported in the Philippines.
The country’s first confirmed COVID-19 case was a 38-year-old Chinese woman from Wuhan, China.
Meanwhile, the University of the Philippines OCTA research group cautioned that a decline in cases was "not irreversible" and much needs to be done to sustain the downturn before relaxing quarantine measures.
The group noted that while the situation in Metro Manila has improved, it has yet to achieve the 28-day case doubling time set by the country's pandemic task force as a prerequisite to relax quarantine restrictions.
The group noted that the positivity rate, or the ratio of people who test positive for the virus out of the total number tested, has been at 10 percent over the last two weeks.
But the group warned that a premature downgrading of Metro Manila's quarantine status could bring a surge of new COVID-19 cases in December.
On the other hand, Dr. Benigno Agbayani Jr. of the Concerned Doctors and Citizens Philippines (CDC-PH) said their group believed that it was appropriate to ease quarantine protocols.
Maricar Limpin, vice president of the Philippine College of Physicians, said the general community quarantine (GCQ) should be maintained in Metro Manila.
In a Dobol B sa News TV interview, Limpin said easing the community quarantine would imply that the contact tracing efforts of the government were sufficient and effective.
"Right now if we try to loosen up and the things we need to do are not in place, that's where we will lose,” she said in a mix of English and Filipino.