COVID-19 surge still possible despite lockdown gains: infectious disease expert

Christian V. Esguerra, ABS-CBN News

Posted at Apr 20 2020 06:20 PM | Updated as of Apr 20 2020 06:24 PM

Vehicles pass through a special lane for cargo deliveries of basic goods in a checkpoint along the North Luzon Expressway during the enhanced community quarantine of Luzon on March 19, 2020. Mark Demayo, ABS-CBN News

MANILA — Cases are not expected to surge within 2 weeks after the Luzon-wide lockdown is lifted, an infectious disease specialist said but warned that the public should not be complacent against the fast-spreading coronavirus.

That period immediately following the community quarantine will cover infections still acquired during the lockdown because of the virus’ 14-day incubation period, said Dr. Edsel Maurice Salvaña of the University of the Philippines’ National Institutes of Health.

“This may lull us into a false sense of security if it stays low until there has been real harm done,” he said in a Facebook post last Saturday, adding that any modification to the community quarantine should be done “slowly.”

“The potential surge is always there.”

A government inter-agency task force is set to recommend options on the Luzon quarantine, which is set to end on April 30. Authorities earlier cited the possibility of gradually lifting it or extending the lockdown.

In any case, physical distancing and wearing of face masks in public should be part of a “new normal” beyond community quarantines, said Salvaña, to avoid transmitting the virus in case one was infected.

The new coronavirus has killed at least 428 out of 6,459 people infected in the country, figures that are among the worst in Southeast Asia.

REAL GAINS

The Luzon quarantine, which began on March 17, resulted in “real gains” with the number of cases now doubling in 14 days instead of 3 in late March, said Salvaña.

“We must realize that this time was bought at a great cost and it is imperative that we don’t let our guard down,” he said.

“This is the only chance we get to consolidate our gains because our economy will not be able to tolerate another prolonged lockdown.”

Adjusting to the “new normal” post-quarantine will also involve “personal responsibility” to still minimize movement given that the virus has not been defeated, said Dr. Eric Tayag, former chief of the National Epidemiology Center.

“If I’m sick, I’m not going to go out because I would not want somebody to catch it from me,” he told ABS-CBN News.

Tayag said businesses should still consider work-from-home arrangements while more doctors could go for “telemedicine” practice or online consultation.

The Department of Health earlier issued guidelines on this virtual practice to “unburden local health systems and health facilities” now focused on COVID-19 cases.

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