‘Reopening economy risky but a necessity’: Gov’t setting up systems to control possible spike

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    Going over. No, these cops from the Highway Patrol Group are not stopping a bus and arresting its driver; they are hurdling the concrete barriers at North EDSA to monitor the flow of traffic on dedicated bus lanes after the closure of U-turn slots in the area. PHOTO BY ROLLY SALVADOR

    THE complete opening of the economy raises the chances of a possible surge in coronavirus disease (COVID-19) infections in the country but it is a necessity that could be cushioned with systems being put in place by the government and the public’s observance of mandated health protocols.

    Vince Dizon (right) and Dr. John Wong (left) (Photo from Presidential Communications Service)

    This was the shared views of National Task Force Against COVID-19 deputy implementer Vince Dizon and epidemiologist Dr. John Wong who emphasized, in separate briefings, the need to reopen the economy slowly or gradually amid the continuing presence of the coronavirus.

    Dizon, during the opening of the Solaire-PAGCOR Mega Quarantine Center at the Bagong Nayong Pilipino facility, acknowledged the rise of COVID cases by the thousands everyday in countries in Europe where the economies had already fully opened.

    He said the Philippines, however, must slowly follow the trend than risk the Filipinos’ continued suffering not just because of the pandemic but also due to “lack of job, lack of livelihood and lack of income.”

    “The President said, because we need it, we will slowly open. Does it have the risk of raising the number of cases if we open? Yes, there is… The whole world faces this, but we must not hide in fear, we need to slowly open but we need to prepare,” Dizon said.

    Wong, in a virtual briefing in Malacañang, said having a good public health capacity will help control and manage the increased risk that comes with opening up the economy.

    “We know that opening up the economy entails more risk than sheltering in place. Although the rest may be justified, systems have to be put in place… without these capacities, communities are under risk of reverting to higher levels of quarantine and losing all of the economic gains,” Wong said.

    Both Wong and Dizon said these capacities include continuing mass testing and more contact tracings, more isolation beds and quarantine facilities, and continued treatment of patients.

    Another measure is by expanding the Coordinated Efforts to Defeat Epidemic (C.O.D.E.) to cover all local government units, not just areas with high cases of COVID-19.

    The Inter-Agency Task Force for the Management of Emerging Infectious Diseases (IATF-EID) has issued Resolution 75 to implement the expanded C.O.D.E. and which directs the Departments of Trade and Industry (DTI) and Labor and Employment (DOLE) to localize the system and make it operational in workplaces.

    METRO MANILA REMAINS UNDER GCQ

    President Duterte on Monday night placed Lanao del Sur, including Marawi City in Mindanao, under modified enhanced community quarantine (MECQ) from October 1 to 31, while Metro Manila will remain under general community quarantine (GCQ) for the same period.

    Also under GCQ are Batangas for Luzon; Iloilo City, Tacloban City and Bacolod City for the Visayas; and Iligan City for Mindanao, while the rest of the country will be modified GCQ.

    Roque and Wong said Metro Manila retained the GCQ status because its attack and growth ratings stayed at the medium and moderate levels.

    Wong said the two-week growth rate of Metro Manila is at 45 percent, which falls under the moderate level, while the average attack rate is 5.8 percent placing the region in the medium level.

    The Department of Health had referred to the two-week growth rate as the number of cases tallied for the last two weeks in a specific location, while the daily attack rate refers to the day-to-day increase or decrease of confirmed cases in a certain area.

    GOING DOWN

    The OCTA Research group from the University of the Philippines yesterday voiced optimism that the infection rate of coronavirus in the country is going down even as it cautioned against a hasty reopening of economic activities in major cities.

    UP OCTA’s Butch Ong, a disaster response and resilience expert, told public briefing Laging Handa that two figures being monitored by the DOH – the reproduction number and the positivity rate – have been dropping, an indicator that the government has gained strides in controlling the infection.

    The R Naught or the reproduction number represents the potential number of people that a coronavirus carrier can infect. A value above 1 means the virus is being actively transmitted in the community.

    On the other hand, positivity rate is the percentage of individuals that will turn out positive out of the total number of people who are tested for COVID-19.

    “Currently, the Philippines’ reproduction number ranges from 0.80 to 0.85, which is a good sign that the community infection is dropping. Another encouraging news is the positivity rate in NCR (which stands) at 9 percent. Our previous target was 10 percent. We worked from a positivity rate of as high as 14 percent,” Ong said.

    He said for the World Health Organization (WHO), a positivity rate of 5 percent is the ideal number. “I think that number is now within reach,” the doctor said.

    However, he was quick to warn the government and the public that complacency and hasty decisions could result in a reversal of any gains made.

    “The downtrend is encouraging but the message here is it can actually surge at any time.

    The best protection is still our discipline. In fact, I believe that everyone knows what to do.

    The plan now is to sustain the downtrend,” Ong said.

    Once the country achieves a five percent positivity rate and a 0.5 reproduction rate, he said the government might consider further easing the quarantine restrictions.

    Until then, he said it would be courting trouble to hike up business operations which will create more crowds and less physical distancing.

    “We should not do anything drastic, we should not suddenly open economy-wide. We still have a few more weeks to improve or increase discipline. We should still follow the follow social distancing, (wearing) mask, and washing our hands in the workplace,” Ong stressed.

    “We should still follow the minimal health standards which includes social distancing. If the facility can guarantee, number one, that everyone inside there will have effective social distancing. Number two, proper ventilation. (But) if the minimal health standards cannot be guaranteed then we should not be at 100 percent,” he added.

    Defense Secretary and National Task Force Against COVID 19 chairman Delfin Lorenzana said another month of GCQ in Metro Manila will not hurt the region.

    Lorenzana said some local government units in NCR wanted the region to be under MGCQ, the lowest quarantine classification, to be imposed in the metropolis.

    “But there are, I think about half, who would like to continue with GCQ so they can continue with what they are doing,” said Lorenzana.

    He said the Metro Manila mayors wanted to retain the GCQ classification for fear that the COVID-19 situation will worsen and the country would again be placed under strict a lockdown.

    “They are very afraid that if they loosen up it will spike again, we will again return to MECQ, so I think one month more will not hurt us, it will help us a lot,” said Lorenzana.

    QUARANTINE

    Interior Secretary Eduardo Año said authorities will be more aggressive in isolating COVID-19 patients to government-recognized quarantine facilities under the Oplan Kalinga program to end the chain of transmission.

    “Actually, what’s new is our determination in enforcing Oplan Kalinga,” said Año, adding that the need for the more aggressive action was discussed during a meeting between the IATF and Metro Manila mayors last Sunday night.

    Año said close contacts or those who were exposed to COVID-19 positives must also be restricted in their homes and tested.

    Relatedly, Año said parties are still not allowed in Boracay when it re-opens to tourism on Thursday.

    Año stressed that minimum health standards will be enforced in Boracay when it re-opens.

    He said that while restaurants will be allowed to offer dine-in services, the serving of alcoholic drinks will be controlled. – With Peter Tabingo and Victor Reyes