OCTA sees 11K cases daily by end-March: Minors not allowed to go out of homes

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    Checkpoint. Cops manning a checkpoint in Mandaluyong City check the papers of motorists during the first day of the implementation of the 10 p.m. to 5 a.m. unified curfew in Metro Manila. The PNP said the implementation of the curfew was successful, with over 3,000 people arrested, fined or warned. PHOTO BY RHOY COBILLA

    FROM 8,000 daily cases just two days ago, the independent OCTA Research Team yesterday updated its projection and said the country may see up to 11,000 new coronavirus disease (COVID-19) cases per day come the end of March.

    In a television interview, OCTA Research fellow Dr. Guido David said the country’s reproduction number (R-naught) has climbed to 2.03, higher than the 1.95 R-naught registered last Sunday.

    R-naught is defined as the transmission rate of a specific disease, or the number of how many people a COVID-19 patient can infect.

    “Right now, the numbers that you mentioned, 8,000 to 9,000 per day, is now up to 10,000 to 11,000 daily by the end of this month,” said David.

    Just last Sunday, the OCTA said the trend indicated that the country may see as much as 8,000 new COVID-19 cases by the end of March.

    “The reproduction number is now above two, and what that means is that we have to recalculate to get the trends,” David said.

    Presidential spokesman Harry Roque acknowledged that the country’s daily number of COVID-19 cases is nearing the August 2020 level when the peak of the pandemic was felt in the country.

    Roque said that with the current trends, the numbers could even surpass the August level.

    “We now have what we call a spike. We are nearing the peak that we saw last August and this could go beyond that peak if we are unable to reduce the number of COVID-19 cases,” Roque said.

    The Philippines reported 5,000 cases on Saturday and more than 5,000 on Sunday. The country has recorded 631,320 cases as of March 16.

    Health Secretary Francisco Duque III, in his report to President Duterte on Monday night, also admitted that the number of current COVID-19 infections, if not contained, will surpass the first surge of COVID-19 that the country experienced last year.

    “We need to stop these cases. If not, we will surpass the July, August peak of COVID cases,” Duque said.

    He urged local government units (LGUs) to be more vigilant in ensuring that their constituents follow the protocols, to intensify the implementation of preventive measures and be aggressive in the early detection and active cases finding.

    He said Infected individuals should be identified in the community through the help of barangay health emergency response teams so that they can be isolated from the general population.

    Roque echoed Duque’s call as he reminded the public to continue following health protocols and ensure the identification and isolation of persons infected and those that they have been in contact with.

    Vaccine czar Carlito Galvez Jr, said that it has been observed that some people have been lax in following health protocols after the vaccines started arriving.

    He reminded the public that the vaccination program, for now, is limited to healthcare workers and it would be best to follow protocols such as wearing facemasks and shields and observing social distancing.

    HIGH CASES IN NCR, CAR

    Duque, also in his report to the President, said cases have been rising in Metro Manila and the Cordillera Administrative Region (CAR), where the more contagious UK variant of the virus was first detected.

    He said it is still uncertain if the UK variant is a factor in the increasing number of cases in the NCR and CAR.

    Duque said based on their initial assessment, the spike may be due to a combination of the increased public mobility due to the freer quarantine restrictions and a bigger part of the economy has been opened.

    Roque, however, believes that the opening of the economy would still be possible without adding to the number of cases if the people continue to follow the minimum health protocols including those in public transportation and the workplace.

    Contact tracing czar Benjamin Magalong said contact tracers are already overwhelmed and exhausted by the number of cases they are handling as he appealed for additional contact tracers.

    “We really need more contact tracers because our contact tracers are already overwhelmed,” Magalong told the Laging Handa press briefing.

    “They are tired, they are exhausted and mentally pressured already and physically pressured. Hopefully, there will be additional,” said Magalong, who is also the mayor of Baguio City.

    Department of Interior and Local Government undersecretary and spokesman Jonathan Malaya on Monday said there are 255,850 contract tracers under the supervision of the local government units throughout the country.

    As a stop gap measure, Magalong said he has already coordinated with the PNP, through the DILG, to seek help.

    Magalong said the exhaustion among the contact tracers is one of several reasons why the country’s ratio for COVID-19 patients and their close contacts is down to 1:6, from a high of 1:10 a few months ago. The ideal contact tracing ratio for urban and rural areas is 1:37 and 1:30, respectively.

    Another reason for the low contact tracing ratio, Magalong said, is there is no cascading of contact tracing lessons learned at the regional and provincial level.

    Another factor for the low contact efficiency is the shortage of encoders, he added.

    In some instances, Magalong said they were surprised that there were no recorded close contacts of a COVID-19 positive, only to find out the close contacts were encoded.

    Magalong said there were also instances when information was not reflected on the database because these were merely written on a piece of paper.

    He also lamented the lack of supervision and support by some local chief executives to the contact tracing efforts.

    Also during the Laging Handa press briefing, Mayor Chavit Singson, of Narvacan, Ilocos Sur, said his town has relaxed protocols to further open up economy.

    “If you are going to be stricter, more people will suffer and many will be hungry. So we have to open businesses,” said Singson.

    BAN ON MINORS

    Metro Manila mayors have agreed to prohibit minors from leaving their residences for the next two weeks as the government moves to tighten health protocols to stop the new surge of infections.

    Metro Manila Development Authority chief Benhur Abalos said only those aged 18 to 65 years old will be allowed out of their homes.

    “We are implementing age restrictions because of the increase in our COVID-19 cases. We encourage everyone to strictly observe and practice the minimum health protocols, and be extra careful and follow stringent measures particularly when around vulnerable family members, as there have been reports of transmission among family members,” Abalos said in a statement.

    He added that, “as I’ve said before, the metro mayors and MMDA are regularly monitoring the COVID-19 numbers and we will implement calibration and changes on our directives depending on the figures that we have.”

    “The MMC, through the MMDA, is drafting a resolution prohibiting minors, particularly aged 15-17, to go outdoors for a period of two weeks. This will be implemented in all the 17 LGUs comprising the National Capital Region,” he also said.

    The MMC last month asked the Inter-Agency Task Force on Emerging Infectious Diseases (IATF-EID) to ease age restrictions and allow 15 years old and above to leave their homes.

    Prior to this, Metro Manila mayors had allowed only people aged 18 to 65 years old to go out.

    The MMC on Monday started imposing uniform nighttime curfew hours effective until the end of the month in a bid to control the increasing number of cases in the metropolis.

    Additional measures such as liquor bans and localized lockdowns in areas with high infection rates have also been put in place.

    The city government of Makati yesterday placed barangay Pio del Pilar under localized enhanced community quarantine (LECQ) due to a sudden increase in cases.

    A swab test conducted on 575 residents showed 27 have contracted the coronavirus, while 548 tested negative.

    In San Juan, Mayor Francis Zamora yesterday announced a liquor ban will be in effect in the city until the end of the month.

    Likewise in a bid to stem the increase of cases from new COVID-19 variants, Galvez said the National Task Force against COVID-19 (NTF) has recommended limiting the number of inbound overseas Filipino workers and returning overseas Filipinos (OFs) to 1,500 per day.

    He said the NTF also recommended suspending the entry of foreigners and non-essential travelers to the country for two weeks.

    “We had an emergency meeting where we discussed limiting inbound passengers to OFWs only. We will be stricter on the inbound passengers. We will limit it to 1,500,” Galvez said.

    It was, however, not clear if President Duterte already approved it and when it would start.

    VIOLATORS

    Over 3,500 persons were caught violating the uniform curfew hours in Metro Manila during the curfew’s initial implementation from 10 p.m. Monday to 5 a.m. yesterday, PNP deputy chief for operations and concurrent Joint Task Force COVID Shield chief Lt. Gen. Cesar Binag said.

    Binag said 1,449 of the violators were arrested, 1,588 were fined, and 547 others were merely warned. Manila City had the highest number of violators at 1,139 persons.

    “Ticket as fines were also issued to 1,588 curfew violators. They have the option to render community service if they fail to pay the fines imposed upon them. Meanwhile, 547 curfew violators were issued initial warnings and subsequently released,” said Binag.

    Binag said a total of 8,341 policemen were deployed throughout the metropolis to enforce the curfew.

    Binag said initial implementation of the curfew was “generally peaceful due to the support of the LGUs and the cooperation of the public.” – With Jocelyn Montemayor, Noel Talacay, Victor Reyes and Christian Oineza