‘More than 3K infections possible after the holidays’

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    What to do? Even with the threat of COVID-19, there is no stopping bargain hunters from trooping to Divisoria in search of the best Christmas deals. Although wearing masks and shields, they ignore physical distancing, much to the chagrin of authorities. PHOTO BY RHOY COBILLA

    OCTA: Virus reproduction rate at 1.06 in Metro

    BY JOCELYN MONTEMAYOR and GERARD NAVAL

    CORONAVIRUS disease (COVID-19) infections in Metro Manila might breach the 3,000 level during the holiday season if the recent uptrend in contamination rate continues, National Task Force (NTF) against the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) chief implementor Carlito Galvez Jr. warned yesterday.

    In a virtual briefing, Galvez said: “Nakita po natin na iyong sa (Metro) Manila umaangat na po iyong tinatawag natin na kanilang active cases. Sa ngayon nga po baka ma-breach nga po natin iyong 3,000, kasi noong dati 2,500 na lang (We have observed that the active cases in Manila are increasing. We might breach 3,000, because in the past we have only tallied around 2,500).”

    He said the Inter-Agency Task Force for the Management of Emerging Infectious Diseases (IATF-EID) will recommend to President Duterte to “make an announcement to be extra cautious this coming holiday.”

    Galvez cited OCTA Research team’s report that in the run up to Christmas Day, the reproduction rate (R naught, R0) of COVID-19 in the National Capital Region (NCR) has already reached 1.06, breaching the mark set by the World Health Organization (WHO).

    On Monday, OCTA’s Professor Guido David said that Metro Manila is already seeing an R0 of more than 1.

    “1.06 in NCR,” said Guido when asked of the present NCR R naught, which refers to the number of people that one infected person can pass the virus on to.

    This is higher than the 0.99 reproduction rate in NCR just over the weekend.

    The WHO has said the goal is to reduce COVID-19’s reproductive rate to below 1.

    Guido said his team believes that holiday mobility of people has prompted the surge in cases of COVID-19. “Holiday crowding and increased mobility (caused the surge),” he said.
    Last week, Health Secretary Francisco Duque III said the increased mobility of the public in recent weeks is seen as one of the main causes of the surge in COVID-19 cases.

    “The increased mobility of people because of the holiday season leads to increased contact rate, transmission has increased. This is what we see. (So) 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 said.

    Health Undersecretary Maria Rosario Vergeire on Monday said the DOH wants to first verify the data of the OCTA team regarding the reproduction rate in the NCR.

    This, she said, is because they believe that the current R naught is still at 0.94.

    “What OCTA is saying are modeling and scientific assumptions. In such cases, we want to verify first its accuracy,” said Vergeire.

    Galvez noted IATF data showing that as of December 8, the active cases in Metro Manila was at 2,520, which ticked up to 2,896 on December 13.

    He said there was a “positive growth of 376 cases in five days or an average of 75 cases daily in the NCR, which can be considered manageable but requires precautionary measures to contain possible spike during the holidays.”

    Presidential spokesman Harry Roque said OCTA report is usually based on the figures collated by the Department of Health (DOH) and it its report about the rising reproduction rate is true, the 1.06 R0 is “not a big jump” from the 0.99 “but it tells us to take caution.”

    CHRISTMAS PARTIES

    PNP chief Gen. Debold Sinas said people who will be caught holding Christmas parties will be arrested since such celebrations have not been permitted by the IATF. “ Parties are not allowed,” Sinas told a press briefing at the PNP national headquarters in Camp Crame.

    On whether violators will be arrested, Sinas said: “Yes of course.”

    Sinas said Christmas dinner and lunch may be allowed, depending on the discretion of police commanders.

    He admitted that dinners may still be considered as party “but you have to observe the requirements,” referring to the minimum health standards like wearing of face masks when not eating and observing social distancing.

    He said the PNP directorate for operations will be issuing “specific guidelines” to policemen soon.

    “We have issued a directive that there should be no parties…. The directive has been issued, guidelines have been issued, pronouncement has been given, it’s with them already and I think our commanders are doing fine in implementing it,” he added.

    At the same time, Sinas said the presence of “Santa cops” in public areas will be limited this Christmas season.

    “If you will notice, we have limited number of Santa cops. We have more social distancing patrol policemen. I do not discourage the Santa cops but I am not also encouraging it,” he said.

    Sinas also said policemen will be lenient toward people who will be caught not properly wearing face mask and face shield.

    “Para maiwasan na rin yung reklamo na inaaresto, hindi na po arestuhin kung ang violation lang naman is improper wearing of masks and shield. (To avoid complaints, we not arresting people if their violation is merely improper wearing of masks and shields),” he said.

    “We have given instruction to just remind them, many of them actually are following,” he said of the violators.

    During the “Laging Handa” press briefing, Joint Task Force COVID Shield commander Lt. Gen. Cesar Binag said the task force is on full alert during the holiday season.

    Binag said the task force has doubled the number of policemen deployed in convergence areas like malls, markets, transport terminals and seaports to ensure minimum health standards are observed by the people.

    Bohol Governor Arthur Yap said his province is ready to welcome local tourists after a two-month preparation to ensure health and safety protocols are in place.

    Yap said resorts, hotels and other lodging and dining destinations have undergone vetting for compliance with the required standards of the Department of Tourism and the DOH.

    “Nag-umpisa ang preparations namin September pa when we hosted the Philippine Travel Exchange. Doon pa lang we were able to test our existing protocols. Naisip namin, saying naman ang mga preparations natin kung hindi bubuksan ang Bohol for leisure tourism (We started our preparation as early as September when we hosted the Philippine Travel Exchange. It enabled us to test the efficiency of our existing protocols. We made up our minds those preparations should not go to waste),” he said.

    Yap said visitors would have to strictly observe the process including prior registration on the official website www.tourism.bohol.gov.ph. Visitors will be required to submit the QR Code of their reverse transcription polymerase chain reaction (RT-PCR) test, choose a DOT-accredited lodging establishment, and supply other required details.

    The governor clarified that for the RT-PCR result to be valid should show that the person has tested negative at least 72-hours before registering.

    “As of now, we have a select list of destinations that are open as not all establishments can afford the cost of preparations. We hope, slowly we will entice more of our local tourists to come and enjoy what Bohol has to offer,” he said.

    Vacationers can enjoy their stay for a maximum of five days after which they will be asked to take a second confirmatory RT-PCR test before they can be allowed for an extended stay.

    “We are observing the DOT’s travel bubble policy. If they want to stay on, they will have to get their confirmatory RT-PCR test. If that shows a negative result, within that five to 14 days they are allowed to go around their vacation,” Yap said. – With Victor Reyes and Peter Tabingo