MANILA - The OCTA Research group on Saturday reiterated calls for a one-week extension of the strictest quarantine level in the "NCR Plus" bubble to slow down the virus transmission rate.
This, as the country logged over 15,000 new COVID-19 cases on Friday, another record-high, 3,700 of which came from "backlogs" due to issues with the health department's data collating system.
In a virtual briefing, the research unit said the virus reproduction rate (R) in the capital region is at 1.65 as of Friday, lower from the previous week's 1.96.
The R value measures the average number of people that one infected person passes the disease to. An R value above 1 can lead to exponential growth.
Professor Guido David attributed the lower R rate to a week-long enhanced community quarantine (ECQ) in the areas of Metro Manila and nearby provinces Cavite, Rizal, Laguna, and Bulacan, which is set to end on Easter Sunday, April 4.
"It does not mean that cases are slowing down, that the number of cases is decreasing now. The R number... is still very high... If we extend the quarantine or minimize mobility, the R number could decrease to 1.33 by this time next week," David explained.
The challenge now, according to them, is to continue slowing down the rate of transmission to prevent hospitals from overflowing with fresh admissions due to the virus and to lower the occupancy rate of COVID-dedicated beds and ICUs.
This may only be felt after another week of ECQ in NCR Plus, according to Fr. Nicanor Austriaco, another OCTA fellow.
ECQ reduces businesses that can operate at full capacity, limits the capacity of public transport which restricts mobility, and sets curfews to keep people at home.
"If we do not drop the R, it will remain at critical levels for many weeks, if not months. So the challenge for NCR is [to] lower the hospital occupancy... for several weeks," Austriaco said.
Government must also transition areas under the NCR Plus to modified ECQ before placing these again under general community quarantine (GCQ). The researchers described this as an "exit strategy" that could also help slow down the transmission.
The following are OCTA's recommendations to the government:
President Rodrigo Duterte is reportedly expected to announce whether to extend or to lift the ECQ in the NCR Plus bubble later Saturday.
The Philippines was the first country in Asia to go under a nationwide lockdown, with broad restrictions and movement curbs leading to a 9.5-percent slump in the economy, its worst contraction on record.
Hospitals' intensive care and isolation bed capacity in the capital region have reached critical levels or above a 70-percent occupancy rate, data from the health department showed.
- With a report from Reuters