OCTA sees 1M cases before end April

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    Checkpoint. Members of the Manila Police District, Marines and Philippine Navy man a checkpoint in front of the Manila North Cemetery on the second week of extended enhanced community quarantine for the NCR Plus bubble. PHOTO BY RHOY COBILLA

    THE number of coronavirus disease (COVID-19) cases in the country would breach the one million mark towards the end of April even as the government continues to exert efforts to contain and slow down the rise of infections, the independent OCTA Research group said yesterday.

    “The one million total cases that will be breached before the end of April is based on the projections that we are seeing,” OCTA Research fellow Professor Guido David said during the Laging Handa public briefing.

    David said that at present, the group expects the number of cases per day to remain from 11,000 to 12,000 for the next week or so.

    The Department of Health yesterday reported 8,355 new cases, which brought the country’s total tally to 803,398.

    The DOH said the decrease could be attributed to less laboratories that operated during the Holy Week.

    David expressed hopes that “the extension of the enhanced community quarantine (ECQ) in the National Capital Region (NCR) and the provinces of Bulacan, Cavite, Laguna and Rizal (NCR Plus) until April 11 will help strengthen the hospital and health care capacity in these areas and eventually keep the cases down.”

    David noted that in Metro Manila in particular, there has been a “downtrend in the reproduction number – the number of people a patient can possibly infect – since the general community quarantine (GCQ) was first declared in the NCR plus which was later upgraded to ECQ.”

    He said that it went down from 2.0 to 1.9 after the GCQ and to 1.6 after the first week of ECQ.

    David also said that DOH and OCTA records show that there is now a slowdown in transmission in the cities of Manila, Parañaque, Marikina, and Navotas and a downtrend in new cases in Pasay and Makati cities.

    Both DOH and OCTA noted a recorded increase in cases in Mandaluyong, Las Piñas and San Juan cities.

    Butch Ong, also of the Octa Research group, said it is still too early to say that current trends would continue and if the reproduction number would go down to as much as 1.0 or below 1.0 by the end of the ECQ on April 11, but he said that their group remains hopeful.

    Ong and presidential spokesman Harry Roque said the goal is to bring down the reproduction rate to 1.0 or below 1.0 by the end of the extended ECQ.

    NO ECQ EXTENSION

    Roque reiterated that the number of cases, reproduction rate, positivity rate, daily and weekly attack rate, as well as the health care capacity level are among the criteria that the Inter-Agency Task Force on the Management of Emerging and Infectious Diseases (IATF) will use when it determines the quarantine level in the NCR Plus by the end of the week.

    Roque, however, said he does not foresee a third week of ECQ.

    Roque said the model recommended by the DOH was to implement two weeks of ECQ and a week of modified enhanced community quarantine (MECQ) to bring down the cases to 4,000 or below a day.

    “I don’t think ECQ for a third week is actually a possibility. In fact, based on the model of the DOH, what they recommended was two weeks of ECQ including last week and then we had earlier another week of bubble to be followed by a week of MECQ,” he said.

    Roque and Ong reiterated the importance of following minimum health protocols and implementing the government’s intensified prevention, detection, isolation, tracing and reintegration (PDITR) strategy during the ECQ period not just to bring down the cases but also to strengthen the healthcare system, including decongesting many hospitals to accommodate more COVID-19 patients.

    Health Undersecretary Rosario Vergeire said monitoring done by the DOH showed that intensive care unit (ICU) beds in 13 of the 21 cities, municipalities and provinces under the NCR Plus have already reached the moderate to critical level, with San Juan recording a 100 percent use.

    Makati recorded a 98 percent ICU utilization rate, followed by Muntinlupa (96 percent), Parañaque and Quezon City (88 percent each), Las Piñas (86 percent), Manila (85 percent), Taguig (84 percent), Bulacan (81 percent), Pasig (80 percent), Cavite (79 percent), Valenzuela and Pasay (77 percent each).

    Vergeire said among the strategies of government to lower the hospital, isolation beds and intensive care unit utilization rate especially in the NCR Plus areas is to start transferring patients who are already recovering from the hospitals to isolation facilities to free up more beds for severe and critical patients, promote the use of the telemedicine system, institutionalize an LGU triage system for better patient navigation, and generate more beds for mild and asymptomatic cases by converting public schools into isolation centers, among others.

    She said the DOH has also downloaded funds to government hospitals which can now directly hire health care workers to augment teams that tend to patients. She said the problem is the low response either due to fear or the available healthcare workers have already been hired and deployed.

    Dr. Rabindra Abeyasinghe and Vergeire said the surge in COVID-19 cases is not limited to the Philippines and can be attributed to the presence of new variants which can infect a person faster.

    Vergeire added that lapses in compliance to minimum health protocols is also another factor.

    Dr. Edsel Salvaña, a member of the DOH – Technical Advisory Council, said the recent surge is due to the more contagious mutation of the SARS-CoV-2 (coronavirus) and people getting less wary of its dangers.

    Interviewed during the Laging Handa public briefing, the infectious disease specialist said the D614G coronavirus is three to nine times more contagious than the original version that was first detected last year.

    He noted that while many are focused on the new variants being found, it is the D614G that accounts for up to 95 percent of active COVID-19 cases globally.

    He added that the new variants, while potentially worse in terms of their ability to spread, have only been detected in very limited numbers around the world.

    “Nakatutok tayo sa ibang variants of concern, pero actually ‘yung virus na mas laganap sa buong mundo ay ‘yung D614G na virus which is three to nine times more contagious than the original viruses that we had. Kaya nakikita natin ganyan, three to nine times din ‘yung peak (While many have been preoccupied about the new variants, the bigger problem is still the D614G which is three to nine times more contagious that the original virus. It accounts to what we are seeing now, the three to nine times peak),” he explained.

    Likewise, Salvaña also cited the WHO pronouncement that the arrival of vaccines may have contributed to a false sense of security in the populace.

    “Other than this, as the WHO noted, the people relaxed prematurely due to a false sense of confidence from the arrival of the first batches of vaccines. We hope this is not so,” he said.

    He assured the public that complying with minimum health standards – wearing facemasks and face shields and observing physical distance – remain the best way to bring down the rate of infection.

    Salvaña expressed optimism that the positive effect of the ECQ will be felt once two weeks have passed.

    INBOUND TRAVEL SUSPENDED

    The IATF has approved the temporary suspension of inbound travels to Western Visayas of passengers coming from the NCR Plus bubble, Cebu City and Davao City.

    The IATF issued Resolution 108 which approved the request of Region VI (Western Visayas) to temporarily halt the entry of travelers from Metro Manila, Bulacan, Cavite, Laguna, Rizal, Cebu City, and Davao City until April 10.

    Western Visayas had asked the task force to temporarily suspend the air travel of returning residents, tourists, Authorized Persons Outside of their Residences (APORs), Returning Overseas Filipinos (ROFs), and Overseas Filipino Workers (OFWs) into the region for a period of one week starting April 4 until April 10, 2021.

    The IATF also allowed the Office of the Civil Defense to procure, using their Quick Response Fund, an initial 500,000 pieces of rapid antigen test kits from any of the authorized firms by the Food and Drug Administration, which includes Standard Q COVID-19 Ag Test manufactured by SD Biosensor, Inc.; Panbio COVID-19 Ag Rapid Test Device manufactured by Abbot; and Wondfo 2019-nCoV Antigen Test (Lateral Flow Method) manufactured by Guangzhou Wondfo Biotech Co., Ltd.

    Roque said that under the extended ECQ rules, industries allowed to operate at full on-site capacity include health, emergency and frontline services such as HMOs, health insurance providers, disaster risk reduction management officers, and public safety officers and the like; essential retail trade and service establishments such as hardware, office supplies, bicycle shops; and public transport providers and operators.

    Operating under skeletal capacity are persons and establishments such as teachers, professors and other staff for purposes of conducting online/offline, and flexible classes, completion of grades, and processing of student credentials, requirements and documents; lawyers who will provide legal representation necessary to protect rights of persons as well as legal services for permitted establishments; janitorial/sanitation services and facilities; establishments engaged in repair and maintenance of machinery and equipment, for households and essential permitted establishments; establishments engaged in repair and maintenance of motorized and non-motorized vehicles, including the sale of spare parts. – With Peter Tabingo and Myla Iglesias