OCTA: Current COVID-19 surge in NCR ‘spreading very quickly in short period’ of time

John Gabriel Agcaoili, ABS-CBN News

Posted at Mar 06 2021 05:46 AM

Commuters head to a bus loading and unloading area along Agham Road in Quezon City, Metro Manila on October 15, 2020. Mark Demayo, ABS-CBN News/File

OCTA researchers flag infections spike in Pasay

MANILA—The COVID-19 positivity rate in Metro Manila is rising steadily as daily coronavirus cases continue to increase, too, analysts said Friday, sounding the alarm on a possible "overwhelming" surge of infections in the National Capital Region (NCR).

The OCTA Research Group said in a report that the number of new COVID-19 cases in the NCR continued to increase, as it tallied over 900 new infections per day from February 26 to March 4. According to the analysts, the ratio of people testing positive for COVID-19 in the region increased to an average of 7 percent over the past 7 days and has risen by 1-percentage point every week.

In Pasay City alone, the group noted 150 new COVID-19 cases were logged from February 26 to March 4, the "highest average daily new cases" there. Besides Pasay, other cities in Metro Manila recorded "marginal" increase in coronavirus infections, the OCTA said.

"Based on our analysis of the data and the past trends in the NCR, we believe that a surge in its early stages has already started in some LGUs in the region," the research group said.

"Unlike past surges experienced, the current surge has spread very quickly in a short period. The increase in cases and the reproduction number indicates that the virus is already spreading exponentially in several LGUs in the region.

The single-day tally of COVID-19 cases in the Philippines reached 3,045 Friday, the highest since October 16, 2020. Analysts have been pointing out that cases in some areas of Metro Manila and Region 7 continue to increase.

The OCTA believes the surge of cases in Metro Manila could have been caused by the COVID-19 variants that have entered the country, including the UK and South African strains, which can overwhelm the region if ignored.

"It is important to stress the urgency of the situation as the UK and South African variants, which have already been identified in the NCR, are game-changing variants because they are more contagious and lethal and can potentially undermine our vaccination program," the analysts stressed.

"The priority now is to contain or mitigate the spread of these more contagious and lethal variants apart from preventing the surge in the region from becoming full-blown."

While the surge in the NCR is a serious problem, it can be abated or even reversed if it is addressed by national and local government officials, private sector and the public, the OCTA said.

"To achieve this, we need to act as one and we need to act now while the situation in the region is still manageable," the group emphasized, urging national government and local government officials in Metro Manila to further intensify efforts and expand COVID-19 testing, contact tracing, isolation, and localized lockdowns to curb the transmission of the deadly disease.

The cities of Cebu, Lapu Lapu, Mandaue, Davao, Baguio and Bacoor were also exhorted to do the same due to their number of daily COVID-19 cases.

"Furthermore, in the identified NCR LGUs, the implementation of more effective localized lockdowns with stricter border controls are urgently needed to suppress further viral transmissions. Effective and more stringent border controls must be observed to mitigate
COVID-19 transmissions from the NCR and between provinces and prevent the spread of the virus," OCTA said.

Regulations for int'l travelers must be re-evaluated

The researchers believe the surge in COVID-19 cases in the affected cities was caused by community transmission, likely aggravated by relaxation of crowd and border controls, contact tracing and coronavirus testing.

"Furthermore, some citizens' deteriorating compliance with the minimum health standard due to pandemic fatigue and/or the failure of LGUs to monitor and enforce GCQ (general community quarantine) regulations have also contributed to spikes, especially in metropolitan areas," the analysts said, stressing the importance of discipline in observing minimum health standards set by government.

"We also exhort the national and local governments to strictly monitor and enforce compliance with minimum health standards, such as physical distancing, wearing of face mask and face shields and proper hygiene, and to discourage large gatherings to reverse the increase in transmissions at the community level."

The OCTA called on national government to enhance the capacity of the Philippine healthcare system, such as boosting manpower, increasing hospital equipment, and building more isolation facilities as the country sets to further reopen its economy and relax more restrictions placed to contain COVID-19 transmission.

The group also recommended government's re-evaluation of protocols for international travelers entering the Philippines.

"While we recognize the need to lift the travel ban and allow returning overseas Filipinos (ROFs) and foreign travelers to travel to the country, it is also apparent that there has been some level of ineffectiveness in the implementation of these protocols, or that perhaps we need to recalibrate some of our guidelines for the testing and quarantine of International travelers," the analysts advised.

"The fact that SARS-Cov2 variants of foreign origin have entered our country supports this call for stricter guidelines and/or stricter implementation of the existing guidelines."

The OCTA spurred health workers and other frontliners in Metro Manila and other regions to get vaccinated against the infectious pathogen, as the group projects another surge of COVID-19 cases in the next few weeks.

The Philippines began its vaccination rollout on Monday after receiving its first supply of COVID-19 vaccines, courtesy of China's donation of 600,000 doses from Beijing-based drugmaker Sinovac Biotech, on Sunday.

The country's vaccine chest was buoyed by Thursday's shipment of 487,200 doses of AstraZeneca vaccines, which has been distributed to priority hospitals in Metro Manila. 

More than 9,000 persons have been inoculated since.

The Philippines' vaccine czar, Sec. Carlito Galvez Jr., said the country is acquiring 161 million doses of various COVID-19 vaccine brands for at least 70 million Filipinos to achieve herd immunity against the coronavirus in the country.

As of posting, the Philippines has confirmed 587,704 COVID-19 cases, with 12,423 deaths and 535,207 recoveries. 

FROM THE ARCHIVES

Watch more in iWantTFC