Surge in COVID cases highest in NCR – Duque: Rapid spread of virus recorded in four other regions

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    HEALTH Secretary Francisco Duque III on Monday night said cases in Metro Manila have been rapidly increasing, making it the region with the highest number of active coronavirus disease (COVID-19) cases.

    Other regions that have also recently recorded a spike in cases are the Calabarzon (Region IV-A), Central Luzon (Region III), and Central Visayas (Region VII).

    Duque, during the weekly “Talk to the People” address of President Duterte, said the growth rate in the four regions has been high in the past two weeks.

    Duque likewise reported to the President that the cities of Pasay and Malabon have been classified as “critical” areas due to a surge in cases.

    “Patuloy na pagtaas po ng mga kaso sa mga Regions IV-A (Calabarzon), Region III (Central Luzon), ang Central Visayas or Region VII, at lalong-lalo na po partikular ang NCR (National Capital Region) na kung saan po nagpakita nang mataas na two-week growth rate (The cases continue to go up in Regions IV-A, Region III, and Central Visayas or Region VII, and especially in NCR which showed a high two-week growth rate),” Duque said.

    He said Pasay City and Malabon City have been reclassified as “critical areas” because of the rapidly increasing number of infected residents, while Navotas, Makati City and San Juan City were classified as “high-risk” cities.

    Duque said that in terms of health care capacity, Makati City and the province of Davao Occidental are classified as “high risk,” while Lapu-Lapu City, Ormoc City, Nueva Vizcaya, Santiago City, Ifugao, Mandaue City, Mandaluyong City and Cebu province are classified as moderate risk.

    Per region, the Central Visayas and the Cordillera Administrative Region posted the highest utilization rate in terms of isolation beds with 48 percent and 47 percent, respectively.

    Duque assured the public that amid the rising number of infections, the government is doing everything to ensure that hospitals have the capability to treat individuals infected with the virus.

    He said the government also continues to monitor the situation as it anticipates the presence of the new COVID-19 strains that may contribute to the spike in case.

    President Duterte reminded the public to continue following health protocols such as the wearing of face masks and face shields, frequent handwashing, and observing physical distancing to stop the spread of the coronavirus.

    “That is the only advice that we can give. Believe the government, just follow,” the President said, adding that apart from the original COVID-19, the world also now has to contend with mutations or new variants that are coming out.

    The President directed barangays to ensure the strict enforcement of health protocols in their respective localities as well as ensure that their communities participate in the government’s vaccination program.

    The Department of Trade and Industry (DTI) and the Department of Labor and Employment (DOLE) yesterday announced it has jointly issued an advisory reminding employers/contractors/subcontractors and business establishments to reinforce their strict implementation of minimum public health and safety standards and protocols in the workplace in view of the rising cases.

    DTI-DOLE Advisory No. 21-01 Series of 2021 on the Continued Vigilance Against New COVID-19 Variants Through Reinforcement of Existing Minimum Public Health and Safety Standards and Protocols was signed on March 9 by Trade Secretary Ramon Lopez and Labor Secretary Silvestre Bello III.

    “Willful failure or refusal to comply with any of the pertinent minimum public health and safety standards and protocols shall be penalized, in accordance with Section 29 of DOLE Department Order No. 198, Series of 2018 and other applicable regulations and guidelines,” the advisory read.

    Transportation Secretary Arthur Tugade also ordered the strict implementation of health protocols inside public transport vehicles and in terminals nationwide to help curb the spread of the virus.

    “The safety of commuters is paramount. I am ordering all transport sectors to strictly enforce the health and safety protocols in order to help prevent the spread of COVID,” Tugade said in a statement.

    Tugade ordered enforcers from the Land Transportation Office (LTO), Land Transportation Franchising and Regulatory Board (LTFRB), and train marshals to make sure that proper social distancing is observed inside public transport vehicles and inside transport terminals.

    Enforcers and marshals have been ordered to make sure that commuters entering terminals and boarding public transport are also using masks and face shields. Transport marshals have also been ordered to remind commuters not to talk or eat while inside the trains.

    Tugade also ordered public transport operators to ensure that their vehicles are safe and are properly disinfected.

    NO STRICTER LOCKDOWN YET

    Presidential spokesman Harry Roque, in a briefing yesterday, reiterated that localized or granular lockdowns for now are enough amid the rise in COVID-19 cases in some areas.

    He reiterated that under the stricter regional quarantine restrictions, more people are unable to go to work while some people go hungry.

    Roque said the actions taken by the government in the past year have shown that it has done an excellent job to address the COVID-19 pandemic and at least 90 percent of Filipinos, based on surveys, agreed with it.

    He said that compared to first world countries with modernized hospitals like the United States, the country ranked 30 in terms of number of cases.

    He said the country has also been able to maintain its health care capacity system, provide cash aid and wage subsidies where it is needed, and has now started with its vaccination program.

    In Manila, Mayor Isko Moreno placed barangays 351 and 725, and rental places Malate Bayview Mansion and Hop Inn Hotel under a four-day lockdown due to increasing number of cases in the areas.

    Executive Order No. 6 said the localized lockdown will start at 12:01 a.m. of March 11 and end at 11:59 on March 14.

    San Lazaro, Tayuman in barangay 351 registered 12 cases, while 14 cases were reported in barangay 725 in Malate. Moreno said 14 cases were detected at the Malate Bayview Mansion and three cases at the Hop Inn Hotel.

    Moreno said to prevent the further spread of COVID-19 cases in the city, lockdowns will be imposed in barangays where more than 10 cases will be reported.

    Data provided by the city government showed that as of 12 noon of March 9, there were 154 new cases in Manila, bringing the total active cases to 988. There were also 74 new recoveries and two new fatalities.

    In Pasay City, the City Epidemiology and Surveillance Unit (CEDSU) yesterday approved the lifting of the lockdowns imposed on 25 barangays in the city after active cases in the areas recorded a decrease.

    The local enhanced community quarantine (LECQ) Bwas lifted in barangays, 28, 32, 40, 57, 58, 81, 95, 98, 100, 107, 118, 122, 132, 143, 155, 156, 175, 178, 190, 192, 7, 74, 96, 99, and 131.

    The LECQ remains enforced over 60 more barangays.

    SECOND WAVE

    The World Health Organization (WHO) yesterday assured that there is still no second wave of the coronavirus disease in the country.

    In a virtual press briefing, WHO Representative to the Philippines Dr. Rabindra Abeyasinghe said: “In a sense, I wouldn’t classify this as a second wave because if you’re talking of a second wave, we should have seen a complete flattening of the curve. We didn’t see that kind of flattening. We always knew that there was quite a big chain of transmission, although the numbers went down at some stage… (So it still reflects an) ongoing wave.

    There’s actually no value in classifying it as secondary (wave).”

    The WHO official, though, admitted that there has been an observed increase in COVID-19 cases, particularly in the NCR and some other areas.

    He pointed, however, that the recent cases remain lower than the previous surge in cases seen in 2020.

    Asked if the WHO sees the presence of the United Kingdom (UK) and South African variants as factors in the recent upward trends, he said: “The WHO is still looking very closely at these new areas to understand better and describe the implications of increased transmissibility, and whether there is any evidence of increased severity of disease.”

    Abeyasinghe said there is not enough evidence yet that there is already a community transmission of either the UK or the South African variants.

    “The variants confirmed is very limited. You may be aware that testing for variants is very costly so very limited testing is being done for variants,” explained Abeyasinghe.

    Currently, the DOH has already recorded 118 cases of the UK variant, and 58 cases of the South African variant. – With Gerard Naval, Victor Reyes, Ashzel Hachero, Noel Talacay, Irma Isip and Myla Iglesias