BY GERARD NAVAL and JOCELYN MONTEMAYOR
THE University of the Philippines (UP) OCTA Research Group yesterday recommended the imposition of stricter localized lockdown in several areas despite an improving trend in coronavirus disease (COVID-19) infections.
In its latest report, the research team urged the government to impose stricter quarantine measures in Bauan, Batangas; Calbayog, Western Samar; and General Trias, Cavite.
“The national government may consider reverting to a stricter quarantine classification or resort to localized lockdowns,” said the report.
At Malacañang, presidential spokesman Harry Roque asked OCTA to refrain from making public its recommendations regarding quarantine lockdowns, and leave to government announcements about quarantines and official policies.
“I wish they would refrain from making these recommendations publicly. They can probably endorse or course their recommendations privately to the IATF (Inter-agency Task Force for the Management of Emerging Infectious Diseases) so they will not be pre-empting, highlighting the fact that classifications are normally announced no less than the President himself,” he said in mixed English and Filipino.
OCTA, in its latest report, said Bauan, Calbayog, and General Trias met conditions for stricter quarantines, which are an increase in new cases for two consecutive weeks; a daily attack rate higher than 7 percent per 1,000 (equivalent to 50 new cases per week per 100,000 population); and the LGU has limited hospital capacity or the hospital occupancy is already in excess of the 70 percent.
OCTA also said Metro Manila and seven other provinces can be considered as “hot spots,” or those with the most number of new cases per day over the past two weeks. The provinces are Cavite, Rizal, Batangas, Laguna, Bulacan, Negros Occidental, and Iloilo.
“Given the analysis of attack rates in the NCR and other cities and municipalities around the country, we urge the national government and the local government units concerned to further intensify their efforts at testing, tracing, and isolation to reverse the increase of transmissions at the community level,” the group said.
In the past 14 days, Cavite had 1,377 cases, Rizal 1,351, Batangas 1,301, Laguna 1,208, Bulacan 988, Negros Occidental 662, and Iloilo 626.
According to the research team, this only proves that the deceleration of the COVID-19 trend does not give the country the license to become complacent against the novel virus.
“These positive trends are not irreversible and significant efforts have to be undertaken by all stakeholders to sustain,” it said.
Last week, OCTA said it started observing an improvement in the COVID-19 situation in the country. It said the number of cases in the Philippines has been decreasing and was t less than 2,500 new cases per day as of October 6.
Roque said the administration appreciates the monitoring and work being done by the researchers from UP and University of Sto. Tomas especially in connection with COVID-19 but the national government has its own team of experts, which submits recommendations to the IATF.
Roque said OCTA may consider submitting its findings and recommendations to the IATF for appropriate action instead of pre-empting whatever action or decision the government will make.
He also said Roque said local government units may implement granular lockdowns in areas under their jurisdictions if needed.
Roque said the Cabinet, in its 48th meeting with President Duterte, approved the establishment of priority areas to manage COVID-19 cases using government’s prevent-detect-isolate-treat-recover strategy.
Roque said the Cabinet also approved the expansion of the age limit for people who can go out from their homes amid the pandemic.
Currently, persons younger than 21 years and older than 60 years, pregnant women, and persons with immunodeficiency, comorbidity, or other health risks are required to stay home, unless they have to buy essential goods, avail themselves of certain services, or have go to work in permitted industries.
Roque said the IATF will finalize details, including the new age limits but one example mentioned was expanding the age group to 15 to 65 years old.
The IATF is set to meet today and report to the President in the evening.
He said the Cabinet also approved the proposal for shorter curfew hours and multiple work shifts to allow more workers to return to work and eventually help revive the economy.
Roque said an IATF approval is no longer needed because the policies were approved in a full Cabinet meeting, that included the IATF members. But publication in the Official Gazette is needed to make the new policies effective.
He said the Cabinet also approved the one-seat-apart arrangement in public transportation to accommodate more commuters and increase the seating capacity in public transportation, provided that safety protocols like plastic barriers in the vehicles, wearing if face mask and shields no talking and eating, adequate ventilation, frequent and proper disinfection, no symptomatic passengers, and appropriate physical distancing are observed.
The Cabinet also approved the expansion of rail capacity from 30 percent to 50 percent, expansion of operation of provincial buses, motorcycle taxis, shuttles, and Transport Network Vehicle Services (TNVS); and accelerating service contracting to expand operation of buses and jeepneys.
On the issue on beep cards, Roque said the Cabinet recommended that bus operators choose their own contactless payment provider with preference for those that can give free cards and provide interoperability requirement.
The increase in public transportation aims to accommodate those that are returning to work as more industries increase their operating capacity.