‘Serious’ case surge seen in NCR

    Enforcing ordinance. Personnel of Barangay Old Balara, Quezon City issue citations to parents of minors out in the streets, and residents disregarding health protocols. The violation means a fine of P300 for the first offense. (PHOTO BY RHOY COBILLA)

    THE National Capital Region is showing a “serious surge” in coronavirus disease (COVID-19) cases, based on the monitoring of the independent OCTA Research Team.

    In its latest monitoring report, the OCTA team said current statistics show that in Metro Manila, “there is 78% increase in new cases compared to one week ago. The reproduction number in NCR increased to R 1.96, its highest level since May 2020.”

    “The daily attack rate in NCR was 15.9 per 100,000 over the past seven days, which classifies the region as high risk. The positivity rate in NCR increased to 12%,” it added.
    In particular, the OCTA noted the rapid increase of cases in the cities of Caloocan (121%), Marikina (107%), and Mandaluyong (107%).

    Also seeing surge in cases are the cities of Quezon (93%), Manila (83%), Makati (61%), Pasig (93%), Taguig (94%), Parañaque (82%), Muntinlupa (75%), and Valenzuela (64%).

    Despite this, the OCTA team expressed optimism that the localized lockdowns, curfews, and stricter implementation of health protocols being imposed in different parts of the NCR will help stop the further spike in cases.

    This, it added, would be more effective if the citizens and the entire communities will be supportive of the government’s efforts.

    “The more optimistic scenario could reduce the number of new COVID-19 cases by the end of March to less than 4,000, compared with 7,500 if there are no changes,” it said.

    “By mid-April, the model that takes into consideration the city ordinances could lead to 6,000 new cases compared to 16,000 if current trends continue,” OCTA said.

    Health Secretary Francisco Duque III has earlier acknowledged OCTA’s projections and said he was not ruling out the possibility of recommending a stricter region-wide lockdown in Metro Manila.

    “If nothing changes and the cases continue to rise, then the possibility of a more widespread lockdown is certainly strong,” Duque said on Wednesday.

    As of March 17, the NCR has a total of 264,539 COVID-19 cases, including 30,569 active cases. There have also been 4,883 deaths and 229,087 recoveries among COVID-19 patients in Metro Manila.

    OCTA fellow Dr. Guido David told a radio interview that the team believes that providing vaccination to NCR residents will help address the surge in cases.

    “We would like to recommend prioritizing the NCR since this is the center of the pandemic,” said David.

    Vaccine czar Carlito Galvez Jr has said that Metro Manila and Calabarzon are regions that will be prioritized once the COVID-19 vaccination program commences.

    Government officials said there is a possibility that concerned regions would shift to the stricter enhanced community quarantine (ECQ) if the number of COVID-19 cases continue to go up and available hospital beds reach the “danger level.”

    Presidential spokesman Harry Roque said: “In our standards, one of the criteria to raise the quarantine classification is the healthcare utilization rate. If it reaches the danger level, what we call the red, that may be a ground to increase the quarantine classification.”

    National Task Force Against COVID-19 chief implementer Carlito Galvez Jr. said OCTA’s warnings put pressure on the government but he is confident that the country, including local government units (LGUs), is already prepared. He said the cases have even started to slide down to 4,000 in the past days and measures such as limiting the inbound passengers and travel restrictions have been adopted to keep the cases down.

    Cabinet Secretary Karlo Nograles said the LGUs are well aware of the situation in their areas of responsibility and would know the appropriate action to take to contain the spread of local transmissions.

    Both Galvez and Nograles said the national government is in close coordination with the LGUs.

    Health Undersecretary Leopoldo Vega, who said the OCTA warning was an alarm bell for everyone to make sure that the cases will not reach that level, said one of the measures adopted by the government to ease the cases especially in Metro Manila is to tap the health facilities in nearby Calabarzon and Central Luzon to accommodate patients.

    Isolation facilities in Calabarzon and Central Luzon are also already being used to accommodate returning overseas Filipino workers, who are required to undergo a seven-day quarantine upon arrival, to prevent overwhelming the isolation facilities in Metro manila.

    Vega said they have monitored an increase in the utilization rate of COVID isolation beds, wards, and ICUs in Metro Manila, where 54 percent of the isolation beds are now occupied, and 64 percent of the ICU beds are already being used.

    He said they have also monitored some tree-level hospitals in Manila, Makati and Taguig that are now between “moderate and high risk” due to the high occupancy of their isolation and ICU beds.

    “Some are even in high risk, which means 80 percent or 83 percent are occupied. We are closely monitoring this to know if we can help in terms of coordinated care and referral to hospitals that has available allocation for beds, especially for moderate and severe,” he said.

    Vega said with the experience last year, especially during the July to August peak, he is confident that heath care systems would be able to handle the rise in cases.

    Some 802 personnel from the PNP and Bureau of Fire Protection have been tapped to do contact tracing in Metro Manila amid the spike in COVID-19 cases in the metropolis, the Department of Interior and Local Government disclosed yesterday.

    DILG undersecretary and concurrent spokesman Jonathan Malaya said the 702 policemen and 100 BFP personnel will assist local government units in their contact tracing efforts.

    Of the 702 policemen, Malaya said 362 will be deployed on the ground.

    The 362 is broken down into 16 in Malabon, 12 in Navotas, 17 in Valenzuela, 30 in Caloocan, additional 16 to the Camanava (Caloocan, Malabon, Navotas, Valenzuela) areas, 14 in Marikina, 16 in Pasig, 17 in Mandaluyong, 15 in San Juan, 30 in Manila, 34 in Pasay, 25 in Makati, 15 in Parañaque, 18 in Las Piñas, 17 in Muntinlupa, 20 in Taguig, 10 in Pateros, and 40 in Quezon City.

    Malaya said the 17 police regional offices will earmark 20 personnel each, or a total of 340 men, to do remote contact tracing. He said they will help in making calls and monitoring the status of COVID-19 positives.

    Malaya said 60 of the 100 BFP tapped to do contact tracing will be deployed in Quezon City while the 40 others will be sent to Pasay.

    “If the LGUs, for example, need more, the chiefs of police can request from their District Director, and if these cannot be met by the district, the NCRPO (National Capital Region Police Office) can deploy the remaining personnel from the mobile forces,” he added.

    Malaya said the 802 contact tracers from the PNP and BFP will be on top of the 300 contact tracers due to be deployed by the Metro Manila Development Authority to the various LGUs in the metropolis.

    At present, there are 9,386 contact tracers deployed in Metro Manila, with Manila City having the most contact tracers at 2,675.

    Meanwhile, Bacoor City mayor Lani Mercado-Revilla said the city recorded a total of 494 new COVID-19 cases from March 1 to March 16.

    Mercado-Revilla said they are due to active two isolation centers in the city to address the rising number of cases.

    In its Facebook page, the Bacoor City government said it recorded 4,029 COVID-19 cases as of last Tuesday. Of the number, 3,394 have already recovered, 495 are active cases and 140 died.

    “Our problem really is isolation areas, it’s hard to isolate because it is already full,” Mercado-Revilla said.

    She said they are allowing COVID-19 positives to go on home quarantine as long as they have their own rooms and a comfort room to use.

    Mercado-Revilla said patients who live in crowded areas have been given priority in the isolation facility.

    Relatedly, the PNP reported 121 more COVID-19 cases in the police force, bringing to 12,631 the number of police personnel who contracted the disease.

    About 15 percent of establishments inspected by the Department of Trade and Industry (DTI) in Metro Manila were found to have violated minimum health protocols set in place to control the spread of the virus.

    In a statement, DTI’s Fair Trade Enforcement Bureau (FTEB) said between January and March 12, it has monitored a total of 779 firms and issued requests for corrective action to 121 establishments.

    The DTI said so far, 79 have complied, and 36 were endorsed to local government units for further investigation. Six are still waiting for corrective actions.

    The DTI said most of these business establishments’ violations were lack of contact tracing or health declaration forms and thermal scanner upon entry, and the establishments’ personnel were not properly wearing face shields.

    The inspection activities were pursuant to the implementation of DTI Memorandum Circular 20-38 or the Updated Guidelines on Barbershops and Salons, DTI Memorandum Circular 20-39 or the Increasing the Operating Capacity of the Dine-in Food Establishments, DTI Memorandum Circular 20-44/DTI Memorandum Circular 20-57 or the Increasing the Allowance Operational Capacity of more Business Establishments or Activities under Category III, and Joint Memorandum Circular No. 20-04-A Series of 2020 or the DTI and Department of Labor and Employment Supplemental Guidelines on Workplace Prevention and Control of COVID-19. – With Jocelyn Montemayor, Victor Reyes and Irma Isip