DOH WARNS: Increased mobility, increased transmission

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    HEALTH Secretary Francisco Duque III yesterday said coronavirus disease (COVID-19) cases are expected to rise as people become more and more mobile during the Christmas Season.

    In a virtual press briefing, Duque said the increased mobility of the public in recent weeks are among the main causes of the surge in COVID-19 cases.

    “The increased mobility of people because of the holiday seasons leads to increased contact rate, transmission has increased. This is what we see,” said Duque, adding: “Once we let our guards down, you are going to really see what we’ve been saying all along: a surge in the number of cases.”

    Duque’s pronouncement was backed by the OCTA Research Team, which said that allowing conferences and seminars to physically take place can result to it becoming “superspreader” events.

    The independent research team said the Inter-Agency Task Force for the Management of Emerging Infectious Diseases (IATF-EID) may want to reconsider its decision or else risk seeing more transmission of the virus.

    “We urge the national government to rethink its directives, such as allowing conferences and seminars to resume in GCQ (general community quarantine) areas, as these events could facilitate social mixing and viral transmission,” said the OCTA group.

    “Given the reality of significant outbreaks in GCQ areas, we believe that, at this time, these directives are risky and opposed to good/sensible pandemic management,” it added.

    OCTA issued the appeal after the IATF-EID recently allowed the conduct of workshops, trainings, seminars, and the like at 30 percent venue capacity in GCQ areas.

    In a bid to counter the growing trend in COVID-19 cases, Duque reiterated calls to the public to observe minimum health standards.

    Duque said the public should always wear face masks and shields, do regular handwashing, and observe one-meter physical distance in order to avoid contracting the virus.

    “We have more reason to be careful and cautious as the usual practices during these times pose a much greater risk of contracting COVID-19,” said the official.

    Similarly, the DOH appealed to private hospitals to comply with the prescribed COVID-19 bed allocation of at least 20 percent of their capacity.

    This, Duque said, as there is only an average of 13 percent bed allocation for private health facilities nationwide.

    “Our health system capacity should ensure its continued preparation for a possible post-holiday surge. We should prepare for possible scenarios,” said Duque.

    Trade Secretary Ramon Lopez dismissed the idea of a wider and stricter lockdown during the holiday season in anticipation of a possible upsurge in COVID-19 cases.

    Lopez, during the “Virtual Presser” program in Malacanang, said the granular lockdowns implemented in parts of the country are still working and would just be continued.

    “We cannot afford another wide lockdown. What we have agreed so far is a granular lockdown system and that has been working very well since, maybe July or August, so we will continue to do that,” he said.

    He added that the government has been very cautious in the reopening of the economy, opting to implement a gradual opening to avoid a second wave of the virus.

    President Duterte has placed the National Capital Region, the provinces of Batangas, Lanao del Sur, and Davao del Norte; and the cities of Iloilo, Tacloban, Iligan and Davao under the general community quarantine (GCQ) from December 1 to 31 while the rest of the country is under the modified general community quarantine (MGCQ) until the end of the year.

    Lopez likewise said that since no new sectors or industries opened this December, switching to modified GCQ at the start of the year could already be possible.

    Lopez had been pushing for allowing 7 or 10-year-olds to go out, accompanied by parents, in time for the holidays as this age group accounts for about 30 to 50 percent of retail sales especially during the Christmas season. Pre-COVID time showed 30 percent of mallgoers are adults with children in tow. – With Jocelyn Montemayor and Irma Isip