AS current community quarantine classifications lapse Friday and new positive cases soared to new heights, presidential spokesman Harry Roque on Thursday highlighted an improvement in the reproduction number (R naught) of the coronavirus, which he said is an indication that the rate of transmission has started to slow down.
Roque said the virus’ R naught now stands at 1.3, which is down from last week’s 1.7. The R naught figure indicates how contagious and infectious the disease is or how many people can a positive person infect.
Roque said the slight improvement means that while the number of cases is increasing, the transmission is slowing down.
He added the development is proof that health and social approaches currently in place are working properly.
Roque said the government will implement new safeguards to further control the transmission of the virus, which would include invigorated testing, tracing and treatment strategies.
National Task Force Against COVID-19 Chief Implementer Carlito Galvez Jr.Galvez said there will be aggressive testing especially during calibrated lockdowns in special concern areas, or those areas with high cases of COVID-19 like Metro Manila.
Roque said local government units (LGUs) and the private sector will play bigger roles in ensuring the successful implementation of guidelines under the new set of community quarantines that President Duterte was expected to announce late Thursday night.
He declined to preempt the President’s announcement and played coy in detailing the recommendation of the Inter-Agency Task Force for the Management of Emerging Infectious Diseases (IATF-EID).
He, however, said the public should expect that “it will not be business as usual” under the new lockdown classifications that will be in effect from August 1 to 15.
He replied a mix of “yes and no” when asked if the public should expect a reversion to modified enhanced community quarantine (MECQ) in Metro Manila after he once said that this was possible if the number of COVID-19 case surpassed a University of the Philippines (UP) prediction of 85,000 by the end of July. COVID cases tolled at 85,486 as of July 29.
“I will not pre-empt the President. But like what I said, it will not be business as usual. And like what Secretary (Carlito) Galvez previously said, in our next phase of our National Action Plan, we will allow local governments to play a bigger role. We will also ask the private sector also to play a bigger role, and we ask the individual to observe minimum health standards as a barest minimum,” Roque said.
Roque said the IATF shared Sen. Juan Edgardo Angara’s concern that Metro Manila’s economy will collapse if the region is reverted to MECQ or placed under enhanced community quarantine (ECQ) again.
The quarantine classification in Metro Manila was supposed to be placed in MECQ from July 16 to 31 but this was appealed by Galvez and Interior Secretary Eduardo Año, on behalf of the Metro Manila mayors who supposedly wanted to retain the general community quarantine (GCQ) status in the region to allow the continued operations of local businesses.
Chief testing czar Secretary Vivencio Dizon said 1.4 million tests had already been conducted all over the country as of July 26 and the government hopes to reach two million by August.
He added 94 COVID-19 testing laboratories nationwide are processing the tests, which are released within two to three days after blood samples were collected.
He also said that the Department of Health had already released a memorandum allowing the expansion of tests to include regular testing of healthcare workers and other frontliners, like soldiers and police officers, security guards, drivers of public utility vehicles, and constituents of LGUs in declared hot spots for barangay lockdowns, among others.
Dizon said frontline workers in declared tourist priority zones of the Department of Tourism, in ecozones or manufacturing zones, and in declared special concern areas like the National Capital Region, Cebu, Metro Davao, CALABARZON, and Central Luzon would also be included in the expanded testing which will be done for free or shouldered by PhilHealth.
The IATF, in Resolution 60 said the 14-day quarantine of those who underwent testing would start on the day of collection of samples.
Galvez and Dizon said to complement the increased testing, government is intensifying its contact tracing efforts and is now tapping more hotels to augment rapidly filled-up isolation beds. More isolation facilities are also being constructed.
Chief tracing czar Mayor Benjamin Magalong said continuous conduct of trainers’ training for contact tracers in various regions and LGUs are being done.
Quezon City Mayor Joy Belmonte said they are hiring 600 tracers in Quezon City who will all be trained under the supervision of Magalong.
She said apart from hiring contact tracers Quezon City is also set to open 1,500 isolation beds in Quezon City by end-August. It has also deployed three mobile testing centers and put up testing centers in each of the six districts in the city.
Quezon City also launched yesterday a COVID-19 testing center at the Quezon City Memorial Circle which was initially opened to 60,000 Grab drivers.
Brian Cu, president of Grab, said they would provide a P10,000 income assistance to Grab drivers and riders who would test positive and undergo a 14-day quarantine.