Faced with rising coronavirus cases and the pressures of reopening a faltering economy, President Rodrigo Duterte has deferred announcing the new community quarantine status for Metro Manila and the rest of the country to Sunday instead of Saturday as previously announced.
This as the Philippines on Saturday recorded 12,674 new cases of COVID-19, the country’s second-highest single-day tally so far, with active cases reaching an all-time high of 190,245 since the pandemic began last year.
As of Saturday night, Duterte is still “weighing the pros and cons before making his final decision regarding the quarantine classification of the National Capital Region Plus Area,” Presidential Spokesman Harry Roque – who was hospitalized for COVID-19 yesterday -- said in a statement.
Roque said the President wanted to review data, including the healthcare utilization rate in these areas.
“We shall provide the necessary notice once everything has been made final,” he added.
The Inter-Agency Task Force for the Management of Emerging Infectious Diseases (IATF) met to discuss its recommendations on Saturday. Roque, who is also spokesperson of the IATF, did not disclose if the task force has already submitted its suggestions to the President.
The policy-making body of the government’s pandemic response was to submit its recommendation to the President whether to extend for another week the enhanced community quarantine (ECQ) which was scheduled to end today.
Metro Manila and its four adjacent provinces of Cavite, Laguna, Bulacan, and Rizal have been under ECQ for two weeks due to a surge in COVID-19 cases.
Earlier this week, Roque also said that instead of extending the ECQ beyond April 11, Malacañang might downgrade it to a modified ECQ “assuming our PDITR strategies work at the end of the two-week ECQ.”Roque reiterated that it would be “highly unlikely” for Duterte to extend the ECQ status in Metro Manila and its nearby provinces.
But the OCTA Research Group recommended Saturday the extension of the ECQ in the so-called NCR Plus bubble to slow down the growth of infections further.
It said the reproduction number in Metro Manila decreased to 1.23 this week (April 3 to April 9) from 1.88 the week before ECQ, which means the strictest lockdown is slowing the virus spread.
However, one of its fellows, Guido David, warned that the death toll could still rise in the country if infections continue to soar.
Also in a televised briefing, Department of Health spokesperson Undersecretary Ma. Rosario Vergeire said the IATF was meeting to decide on the new quarantine status.
The new quarantine status comes as the Philippines reported 401 deaths due to COVID-19 on Friday— the highest single-day tally since the start of the pandemic.
The new cases Saturday brought the total number to 853,209, as three laboratories were not able to submit their data on time, the DOH reported.
The active cases represent 22.3 percent of the total number of cases. Of the active cases, 97.2 percent were mild; 1.7 percent were asymptomatic; 0.4 percent were critical; 0.5 percent were severe; and 0.26 percent were moderate.
The DOH also reported that 593 recently recovered, bringing the total recoveries to 648,220, which is 76 percent of the total.
The DOH also reported 225 new fatalities, bringing the death toll to 14,744, which is 1.73 percent of the total.
Based on its latest monitoring report, OCTA said the reproduction number (R) in the National Capital Region decreased to 1.23 this week (April 3 to April 9) from 1.88 the week before ECQ, which means the strictest lockdown is slowing the virus spread.
Last week’s R naught was at 1.65, based on the research group’s earlier presentation.
The R value measures the average number of people that one infected person passes the disease to. An R value above 1 can lead to exponential growth, the group explained.
OCTA, however, pointed out that the lower testing, down by 19 percent from last week, could mean that “the findings may be subject to corrections once newer data come in.”
If an ECQ extension is not possible, the researchers are suggesting a minimum of 2 weeks of a modified ECQ.
“The positivity rate in the NCR was 25 percent over the past week...the ECQ has been effective in reducing the growth rate and reproduction number in the NCR. There is hope that the NCR will be on a downward trend by next week,” the report read.
“Extend the ECQ for another week to continue to slow down the surge, decongest our hospitals and relieve the pressure on our healthcare workers,” it added, pointing out that reopening the economy “prematurely would be a significant risk.”
Meanwhile, the two-week hard lockdown in Metro Manila and four nearby provinces may not be enough to stem the spread of COVID-19, an official of the Department of the Interior and Local Government said Saturday.
DILG officer-in-charge Bernardo Florece Jr. said the IATF on COVID-19 response was set to meet Saturday to discuss the lockdown status of the areas collectively known as NCR Plus under the 2-week enhanced community quarantine.