Return to strictest lockdown unlikely in March despite spike in COVID-19 cases


Posted at Mar 15 2021 05:05 PM

Return to strictest lockdown unlikely in March despite spike in COVID-19 cases 1
Workers from the Manila City Sanitation Department conduct an operation in a community in Gagalangin, Tondo on March 15, 2021, as COVID-19 cases continue to rise in the city. Jonathan Cellona, ABS-CBN News

MANILA — The Philippines is unlikely to return to enhanced community quarantine this March despite a surge in COVID-19 cases, Malacañang said on Monday, as the country marked the first year of its coronavirus lockdown.

The health department over the weekend reported close to 10,000 fresh infections, and over 5,400 on Monday, raising the country's cumulative total cases to 626,893, the second highest in Southeast Asia.

Asked if this would prompt a return to ECQ, the strictest of 4 lockdown levels, Palace spokesman Harry Roque, who is among the country's active COVID-19 cases, said, "Sa buwan ng Marso, possibly hindi pa po." 

(In the month of March, possibly not yet.)

About 55 percent of ICU beds and 60 percent of ward beds nationwide are still available, he said in a press briefing.

However, the current coronavirus transmission means that 2 people could get infected from a single case, said Roque.

"Mabilis po iyon. So we do not know what will happen in April. Kaya nga po binabantayan natin," he said. 

(That is quick. So we do not know what will happen in April. This is why we are monitoring it.) 

The OCTA Research Group forecasts up to 8,000 daily new COVID-19 by the end of the month, and 18,000 to 20,000 by mid-April if the current reproduction rate of 1.9 to 2 does not change.

It was exactly a year ago on Monday when one of the world's longest and strictest lockdowns started in the capital Manila and later expanded to the rest of the country to curb the coronavirus spread.

President Rodrigo Duterte gradually eased the restrictions to revive the economy, which suffered its worst contraction on record last year.

Duterte has said he would reopen the economy further once millions have been vaccinated against COVID-19, especially those living around big cities.

The Philippines, which aims to immunize 70 million of its 108 million people, has so far inoculated more than 193,000 since it started its vaccination drive on March 1, the Department of Health said.

It has so far received more than 1.1 million doses of coronavirus vaccines from China and via the COVAX vaccine-sharing facility.

— With a report from Reuters