BY JOCELYN MONTEMAYOR and VICTOR REYES
A HEALTH expert from the University of the Philippines on Monday said placing Metro Manila and nearby provinces under the stricter modified enhanced community quarantine (MECQ) is expected to help reduce the number of coronavirus disease (COVID-19) infections in the country and lower projections for this month by as much as 70,000 cases.
Professor Ranjit Rye of the UP-OCTA research team said the group’s projected COVID-19 cases for August was 220,000 if the entire country had remained under the general community quarantine (GCQ) setup.
The UP-OCTA team is an independent and interdisciplinary research group composed primarily of UP faculty members and alumni.
In a briefing with presidential spokesman Harry Roque, Rye said the decision of President Duterte on Sunday night to place Metro Manila, Bulacan, Cavite, Laguna and Rizal under MECQ from August 4 to 18 would have a huge impact on the UP group’s projections and could mean saving 50,000 to 70,000 lives.
He added the figure is achievable, and could even go higher, if everyone would cooperate, including the private sector, by following protocols and health standards and the government’s intensified test, trace, and isolate and treat program.
“Two hundred twenty thousand ang aming estimate projection sa August pero dahil nag-MECQ tayo, bababa between 50 to 70,000 ho ang bagsak, minus doon sa mga bagong kaso. So, malaki hong impact nung MECQ (Our estimate projection is 220,000 projection for August but because we went on MECQ, it will go down between 50 to 70,000 the drop or minus, from the new cases. So, MECQ has a big impact),” he said.
Rye said the transmission rate or projection rate of COVID-19 under a GCQ scenario is at 1.5 percent, which the UP-OCTA team expects to go down to one percent after the two-week MECQ.
He said the improvement in the situation in Cebu City, which was placed under an enhanced community quarantine and later under MECQ, may be replicated in Metro Manila and the nearby provinces after this latest restriction.
He emphasized the importance of the public’s cooperation especially in staying home and in complying with health protocols, like the wearing of face masks, observing physical distancing and frequent washing of hands.
The Cabinet recommended placing Metro Manila, Bulacan, Laguna, Cavite, and Rizal under MECQ for 15 days or August 3 to 18. President Duterte approved the MECQ for 14 days or from August 4 to 18.
NOT A FAILURE
National Task Force Against COVID-19 (NTF) Chief Implementer Secretary Carlito Galvez Jr. Galvez said the return to MECQ does not mean that the government failed to address the COVID-19 situation in the country.
On the other hand, health undersecretary Maria Rosario Vergeire said it the stricter regulation is a “timeout” that would provide everyone a “breather” and time to strengthen response against the pandemic.
Galvez said the MECQ declaration means the government listens to the concerns of the people and tries to address them the best way it can.
Asked if the country is winning the fight against COVID-19, Vergeire said the country is managing it.
She added the DOH had adopted steps to improve the health care capacity in the country and address the concerns of the frontliners, which includes the creation of substitution teams to allow healthcare workers in Metro Manila to rest, including the augmentation of healthcare workers from DOH regional offices and from other parts of the country.
Vergeire said another step is the activation of DOH-COVID Code teams who will search for active cases, test them for confirmation and place them in isolation centers. The teams will work in coordination with local government units and will go around while localized lockdowns are in place.
She said DOH will meet with members of an alliance of healthcare professionals who will help the agency prepare and issue a recalibrated strategy in the fight against COVID-19 within the week.
“(Lastly), we’re calling everybody to be the solution. It is a significant behavioral change in all areas of our life that keeps us and our loved ones safe. The virus will be here for a long time while organizations are working on a vaccine. In the meantime, each of one is asked to observe minimum health requirements as part of our healthy lifestyle,” she added.
NTF Deputy Chief Implementer Secretary Vivencio Dizon reiterated that the government will conduct more aggressive testing, contact tracing, and isolation especially in locked down barangays during the MECQ period. The government is not doing 35,000 tests a day, according to Dizon.
Treatment czar and health undersecretary Leopoldo Vega said to compliment the increased testing, the DOH had been calling for government health facilities to increase their hospital beds by 40 to 50 percent so they will be ready when cases spike. He said public hospitals may convert available rooms to provide more isolation rooms and intensive care units.
He said the DOH and the Department of Public Works and Highways are also fast-tracking the completion and expansion of several hospital buildings in the NCR to provide more facilities for the management of COVID-19 patients.
Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana said not all military reservists will be deployed in the fight against the COVID-19 pandemic, qualifying an earlier statement by President Duterte.
In an address on Sunday night, the President said he might call the for mobilization of all reservists, including his daughter Davao City mayor Sara Duterte, who is a colonel in the Army reserve force.
“But I told him that its only the medical reservists that we need. So it will be good if we can bring them to active service so that they can help in the fight against COVID-19. Last night, I was directed by the President to mobilize our medical reservists,” said Lorenzana.
Lorenzana said the AFP has 380 military reservists and 5,368 enlisted personnel reservists who have medical training.
Lorenzana said the military will improve its hospitals so these can be used as “reserve” in case civilian hospitals gets filled with COVID-19 patients.
New AFP chief Lt. Gen. Gilbert Gapay said the military will seek the help of private hospitals which are considered as “affiliated reserves” of the AFP in the government’s fight against COVID-19.
“They will also be mobilized to help out in this total national effort to mitigate the impact of COVID-19 pandemic. The direction will be also be a comprehensive one, total effort, all hands on deck, all force multipliers and those reservists which the Armed Forces could mobilize will be asked to help out and contribute to really address this pressing requirements and concerns as far as the COVID pandemic is concerned,” said Gapay.