MANILA - The increase in COVID-19 cases in Metro Manila in the past week is higher than the surge in infections in the region last year that prompted the imposition of a strict lockdown in August, the OCTA Research Group said Sunday.
The capital region, home to about a tenth of the country's population, has recorded an average of 1,025 new daily cases over the past 7 days, an increase of 42 percent from the previous week and 130 percent compared to 2 weeks ago, according to the independent group of researchers.
"The last time the region had seen this rate of increase was in July (2020). However, this surge is spreading more quickly than the July-August surge, and this suggests the possibility that the surge is driven by SARS-Cov2 variants," it said.
"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," it added as it urged authorities to conduct genome sequencing.
Metro Manila's surge from July to August last year prompted President Rodrigo Duterte to place the region under modified enhanced community quarantine following healthworkers' call for a timeout.
Six months after confirming its first COVID-19 case, the Philippines on Aug. 3, 2020 breached the 100,000-mark in its cumulative total of infections after a record 5,032 new cases were reported that day.
On Friday and Saturday, the country's additional cases each topped the 3,000 mark, pushing the cumulative total to 591,138, of which, 43,323 are active infections.
Metro Manila accounts for nearly 41 percent of the total cases, with 241,915, latest data from the Department of of Health showed.
The OCTA Research forecasts the country would tally 5,000 to 6,000 new cases per day by the end of March, with Metro Manila reaching 2,000 daily new cases per day by March 21, and 3,000 new cases per day by March 31, if the current reproduction rate continues.
It urged high-risk local governments to further intensify their anti-virus efforts by implementing strict localized lockdowns, expand testing, contact tracing, and quarantine facilities.
Among these high-risk areas are Pasay, Makati, Malabon and Navotas. The group noted all local governments in the capital region except for Valenzuela City had upward trends.
"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," it said.
The group also urged healthworkers to vaccinate themselves against COVID-19. The country last week began its immunization campaign against the coronavirus.
"We subscribe to the belief that the best vaccine is the vaccine that is available at this time. For now, these are the vaccines developed by Oxford/AstraZeneca and Sinovac," it said.
The group reiterated its call for government to re-evaluate protocols for international travelers entering the country.
"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. In many countries, 14-day quarantine is mandatory, even after the traveler has tested negative for SARS-Cov2," it said.
The government on Friday reported that the number of South African or B.1.351 variant cases in the country has climbed to 58, while that of the UK variant already reached 118.
First detected in Nelson Mandela Bay, South Africa in October, the South African variant has been found in more than 30 countries and accounts for more than 90 percent of SARS-CoV-2 samples in South Africa that undergo genetic sequencing.
The health department said that of the 52 new cases of the South African variant, one patient from Metro Manila already recovered, while the remaining 51 cases are currently active infections and are being managed.
There are also 42 mutations of "potential clinical significance".