BY RAYMOND AFRICA and GERARD NAVAL
HEALTH experts yesterday said Malacañang’s one-week strict stay-home order may not be enough to slow down the spread of the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) in Metro Manila and the nearby provinces of Laguna, Cavite, Bulacan and Rizal, raising the likelihood of an extended enhanced community quarantine (ECQ) in the “NCR Plus” areas.
Dr. Althea de Guzman, director of the Department of Health’s Epidemiology Department, said the weeklong ECQ is a short period for government to successfully bring down the number of persons who get infected with the virus every day.
“ECQ must be accompanied by interventions to address poor MPHS (minimum public health standards) adherence and concrete action and plans to improve case detection, contact tracing, testing, and isolation/quarantine. Else, cases will just spike and we just wasted the economic losses we took on with this ECQ,” De Guzman told a Palace briefing.
De Guzman said that if the number of positive cases does not go down by Easter Sunday, they might recommend the extension of the ECQ period in the NCR Plus.
Yesterday, the DOH reported a record-high of 10,016 new COVID-19 cases. It was just last Friday when the highest number of new cases in the country was reset to 9,838.
The latest numbers bring to 731,894 the total number of COVID-19 cases in the country.
Health Undersecretary Maria Rosario Vergeire acknowledged De Guzman’s statement, and said it is not impossible for the weeklong ECQ to be extended.
“We are not closing our doors. This is not cast in stones. For now, officials are only looking at this one week,” said Vergeire, adding: “Everything will be flexible. Everything will be dynamic. Everything will be based on a lot of factors.”
Vergeire said the DOH will “provide weekly targets for local government units and national indicators so we can use them as basis in deciding if we will continue for another week or should we lift it already.”
Primarily, she said they will be considering the healthcare capacity of the country’s medical facilities and hospitals.
“We can see that the system is already choking. We are having full capacities in emergency rooms, in ICUs. Once we see our hospitals are already able to breathe, we will already decide,” said Vergeire.
Presidential spokesman Harry Roque said that based on the projection of the Inter-Agency Task Force on the Management of Emerging Infectious Diseases (IATF-EID), daily COVID cases will not drastically go down even if the ECQ is extended.
He said the IATF makes decision based on the overall situation in the country.
“Hindi natin masyado mapabababa ang numero ng mga kaso maski pa tayo po’y mag extend ng ECQ. Kaya binabalanse po natin ngayon ‘yan, kinukonsidera natin ‘yung total health ng ating mga kababayan, iyong cost-benefit analysis in terms of ‘yung karagdagang Pilipinong magugutom at mamamatay sa iba pang dahilan bukod sa COVID (We really cannot bring the numbers down even if we extend the ECQ. That’s why we are balancing everything. We are considering the total health of our people, the cost-benefit analysis in terms of the Filipinos who will go hungry and die of other causes other than COVID),” Roque said.
“So ganyan po iyong ating decision making process, napakaselan po talaga dahil kung ang susundin lang natin ay iyong isang aspeto na dapat pababain ang numero ng COVID-19 eh baka naman po mas maraming mamatay dahil po sa pagkagutom. At titingnan din po natin siyempre iyong kakayahan na magbigay pa nang malawakang assistance kasi napakadami pong bibigyan ng assistance, kada linggo ng ECQ 22.9 million Filipinos po ang bibigyan ng assistance (So, that’s our decision-making process. It is really very delicate because if the IATF will just base its decision on the number of cases, a large number of our countrymen might die of hunger. Also, the government must be able to provide assistance to millions of affected Filipinos because for every week of ECQ, we need to give assistance to 22.9 million Filipinos),” he added.
According to Vergeire, the ECQ was imposed in the NCR Plus to prevent the number of active COVID-19 cases from zooming to 430,000.
“If we are not going to impose harder measures or lockdowns, there could be 430,000 active cases nationally, with 350,000 cases of these will be in the NCR alone, by the end of April,” Vergeire said.
“We will have that by the end of April. Compare that to our 105,000 active cases currently,” added Vergeire.
She said the move will also give the government the chance to reevaluate its present COVID-19 response and its implementation.
“We did ECQ because this will provide time for us to address the non-compliance to health protocols and operational issues in relation to case detection, contact tracing, isolation, and quarantine,” she said.
“This ECQ aims to slow down the surge of cases, stop the spread of these variants, and allow the health system to recover,” she added.