THE one-week extension of the enhanced community quarantine in the National Capital Region (NCR) and the provinces of Bulacan, Cavite, Laguna and Rizal, or what is collectively called the NCR Plus, is meant to protect hospitals and the entire healthcare capacity in the bubble from collapsing due to congestion.
Dr. Ted Herbosa, a consultant of the National Task Force (NTF) against the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) and former health undersecretary, said there is a misconception that the ECQ declared in the bubble was solely to control the surge in cases.
President Duterte on Saturday approved the recommendation of the Inter-Agency Task Force for the Management of Emerging Infectious Diseases (IATF) to extend the ECQ in the NCR Plus bubble by one week or from April 5 to 11. NCR Plus has been under ECQ since March 29.
Herbosa said that while the lockdown sought to control movement to stop the spread of the coronavirus, it was actually more focused on protecting and strengthening the health system in the bubble areas so hospitlas will not be overwhelmed with cases or their capacities drop to critical level.
Herbosa said that even before the ECQ was imposed on March 29, the government has already been receiving reports that some hospitals have already exceeded their bed capacity limit, and that some patients have to wait in tents outside the emergency rooms before they can be admitted. He said the worst part was that some of the sick reportedly died in the tents.
He said there were also reports that COVID patients have been taken to hospitals outside of the NCR Plus bubble, such as the province of Pampanga, to be admitted and receive medical attention.
Herbosa said at present, government hospitals have already allotted 50 to 70 percent of their beds for COVID patients, while private hospitals are encouraged to raise their 20 percent bed allocation to 30 percent to accommodate more patients.
He said isolation facilities and modular tents that have been closed down after the cases in the country dropped, have again been reopened, and more are expected to be put up during the ECQ extension.
At the start of the ECQ, Public Works Secretary and isolation czar Mark Villar said 64.48 percent of isolation beds in Metro Manila were already occupied, or 3,708 beds out of the 5,751 beds.
NTF Spokesman Restituto Padilla, in a radio interview, said the additional week will give the government extra time to add more modular facilities and isolation tents especially in hospitals that are already in critical capacity.
The Department of Public Works and Highways said it is expediting the completion of the modular tents put up at the Quezon Institute and the National Kidney and Transplant Institute. At least 100 beds at the QI modular hospital are expected to be opened this week.
Padilla said the government is also intensifying its prevention, detection, isolation, tracing and reintegration (PDITR) strategy to address the rising number of cases.
Herbosa said at least two weeks is needed to assess and see if the ECQ had an impact in strengthening the health capacity and in keeping the cases down.
He said the recent high number of recorded cases which ranged from 12,000 to 15,000 in the past days, is not a result of the current ECQ since the incubation period for these cases started even before the lockdown was declared.
He added that at the end of the two-week ECQ, the government hopes to see more available isolation and intensive care unit beds available, a reproductive number rate that is below 1 percent and test positivity rate that is below 5 percent.
Herbosa estimates that the reproductive number rate is between 1.4 percent to 1.8 percent while the Department of Health (DOH) said the positivity rate is at 24.2 percent based on the April 2 COVID cases.
Positivity rate is the percentage of individuals who tested positive out of all patients tested in a day while the reproductive number rate refers to the number of people a patient can possibly infect.
0Vice President Leni Robredo backed the government’s move to extend the ECQ.
“To Me, Ka Ely, extending the ECQ is good because it will constrict the people’s mobility. If you stop the people’s mobility, the chances of transmission will also go down. However, Ka Ely, the cash assistance is the most difficult part,” Robredo told anchor Ely Saludar on her weekly radio program.
At the House, Rep. Stella Quimbo (LP, Marikina), who is a member of the minority bloc, warned the government that extending the ECQ will be useless unless the DOH revises its approach because its current policies “are clearly not working.”
She said the DOH needs an honest assessment of the situation and accept the fact that the numbers are rising that these are not even reflective of reality because of the government’s failure to expand testing and tracing to an appropriate scale for disease control.
Robredo said the government should set clear targets for extending lockdown period, especially increasing its testing capacity, before even entertaining the possibility of another extension when the ECQ ends in April 11.
Padilla said that during the one-week extension, the 6 p.m. to 5 a.m. curfew still stands and other existing protocols would still be observed.
Under the ECQ, certain establishments remain open such as supermarkets and restaurants are available for takeout and delivery only. Public transportation also remains available but subject to protocols.
The Supreme Court extended anew until April 11 the physical closure of all courts in the National Capital Judicial Region and the provinces of Bulacan, Laguna, Rizal and Cavite.
Acting Chief Justice Estela Perlas Bernabe said the closure involved not only the trial courts but also the SC, Court of Appeals, Sandiganbayan and the Court of Tax Appeals.
Cebu Pacific and its unit Cebgo yesterday said it will cancel 38 domestic flights following the one-week ECQ extension.
In an advisory, Cebu Pacific said it will cancel several flights starting from April 5 to April 11 this year as leisure flights remained suspended and only essential travel is allowed in and out of Metro Manila.
These flights will originate from Manila going to Caticlan, Boracay, Kalibo, Cagayan de Oro, Cebu, Coron, Busuanga; Legaspi, Pagadian, San Jose, Iloilo, Roxas, and Bacolod.
In addition, four flights originating from Cebu to Bacolod and Caticlan in Boracay. – With Wendell Vigilia, Ashzel Hachero and Myla Iglesias