Metro Manila seeing 'serious surge' in COVID-19 cases: OCTA Group

Kristine Sabillo, ABS-CBN News

Posted at Mar 17 2021 08:47 PM | Updated as of Mar 17 2021 11:15 PM

Less than 4K new daily cases seen by month's end if LGUs sustain restrictions

Metro Manila seeing 'serious surge' in COVID-19 cases: OCTA Group 1
An attendant sprays alcohol on the hand of a bus passenger to help curb the spread of the COVID-19 virus in Quezon City on March 5, 2021. Jonathan Cellona, ABS-CBN News

MANILA (UPDATED) — The transmission of COVID-19 in Metro Manila, home to about a tenth of the Philippine population, has recently reached its highest level since May last year, the OCTA Research Group said on Wednesday, describing the situation as a "serious surge" in infections.

The group, composed of university professors, noted that the capital region, which around a year ago was the first to be placed on community quarantine to stem the spread of the coronavirus, posted a 78 percent increase in new cases on Tuesday compared to a week ago.

“The reproduction number in NCR increased to Rt = 1.96, its highest level since May 2020,” the OCTA Group said in its latest report.

A reproduction number or R naught of more than 1 means that the infection is spreading to more people since one infected person can pass the virus to one or more individuals. A reproduction number of 2 means 2 people can be infected by one COVID-19 patient.

Officials and analysts have attributed the recent spike in new cases to the increased mobility of people, non-compliance with health protocols, and the presence of more transmissible COVID-19 variants.

Besides being classified as high risk based on its daily attack rate of 15.9 per 100,000 of the population, Metro Manila has reached 64 percent occupancy in terms of COVID-dedicated ICU beds, the research group said.

Among local government units, Pasay, Makati, Navotas and Santiago City in Isabela had “very high” attack rates, which measure the proportion of the population infected with the COVID-19 virus.

According to the OCTA Group, Santiago City had 1 reported case for the week of March 3-9, which increased to 244 for the week of March 10-16.

Cases are also rising in Bacoor, Imus and Dasmariñas in Cavite, and in Antipolo City and Cainta in Rizal, all just outside Metro Manila, it said.

POSSIBLE DECLINE?

The OCTA Group said that while Caloocan, Marikina and Mandaluyong had “very rapid increases” in cases, “Pasay, Malabon and Navotas experienced a slowing down as shown by lower percent increases in new COVID-19 cases compared to the previous week.”

“This could be a good sign moving forward,” it said.

Cebu City also had a “nearly flat” trend while new cases decreased by an average of 18% in Mandaue and Lapu Lapu cities, all in Region 7.

With these observations and the ongoing measures being implemented by LGUs, the OCTA Group said its earlier projections of new cases, particularly in Metro Manila, may go lower.

As early as March 1, the group already flagged the rising number of fresh infections in some parts of Metro Manila and warned that the country's total cases may reach 665,000 by the end of the month if the trend continues.

“As the NCR deals with a COVID-19 surge, we need to assess the effects of efforts by the local governments in dealing with the surge in their respective cities. The localized lockdowns in Pasay and Navotas have helped reduce the reproduction number (or infection rate of the virus) from Rt = 2.4 to 1.8,” the group said in its report on Wednesday.

While the rate is still above 1, it shows that localized lockdowns “work to some extent”, it added.

“Together with reduced mobility, curfews, stricter implementation of health protocols and city ordinances, this can help reduce the reproduction number in NCR to more manageable levels.”

From a projection of 7,500 daily cases by the end of the month if the current trend continues, the OCTA group said Metro Manila may see less than 4,000 cases if the “more optimistic scenario” of having effective localized measures will prevail.

It also projects only 6,000 cases daily instead of 16,000 by mid-April, if the interventions are sustained in the region that accounts for a third of the country's economy.

"We simulated the combined effects of localized lockdowns, curfews and stricter implementation of health protocols. This projection paints a more optimistic scenario," the group said.

It said the “combined efforts of the local governments and the citizens will further reduce the transmission rate and lower the reproduction number in NCR. If this happens, we will hopefully see fewer COVID-19 daily cases in the NCR."

On top of localized lockdowns, which it said should be “humane and protective of individual rights,” expanded testing, contact tracing and “supported isolation” should also be done, the group said.

The total number of COVID-19 cases in the country reached 635,698 on Wednesday after 6 days of more than 4,000 new cases.

The Department of Health admitted that the current level of new cases is already at the same peak level as July last year.

The country launched its COVID-19 vaccination drive on March 1, prioritizing health workers. It aims to inoculate up to 70 million to achieve herd immunity against the coronavirus.

The Philippines' first COVID-19 case was confirmed on Jan. 30 last year in a Chinese woman who arrived from Wuhan City, China where the disease is believed to have first emerged.

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