Premature lifting of Luzon lockdown could be 'catastrophic': UP study

Jauhn Etienne Villaruel, ABS-CBN News

Posted at Apr 23 2020 07:33 PM | Updated as of Apr 23 2020 08:26 PM

COVID-19 cases expected to surge to 80,000 if Luzon lockdown order is lifted too soon

Philippine Army personnel keep tight checkpoints in Barangay Maricaban in Pasay City on April 22, 2020. Jonathan Cellona, ABS-CBN News Philippine Army personnel man checkpoints in Barangay Maricaban in Pasay City on April 22, 2020. Jonathan Cellona, ABS-CBN News

MANILA — Prematurely lifting the enhanced community quarantine (ECQ) in Luzon could spell catastrophe and might result in surge of coronavirus (COVID-19) cases in the country, according to a group of researchers from the University of the Philippines (UP), as they recommended the extension of lockdown set to lapse on April 30. 

The study, "COVID-19 Forecasts in the Philippines: Insights for Policy Making," was a collective work of researchers Guido David from the Institute of Mathematics, Ranjit Singh Rye from the Department of Political Science, and Ma. Patricia Agbulos from OCTA Research. It was published on the state university's website on Wednesday. 

"More than one month since the implementation of the ECQ, it can be stated that the ECQ is a success. The transmission rates of COVID-19 have gone down for most provinces in Metro Manila... [B]ut the gains are not irreversible. Ending the ECQ prematurely may disrupt the flattening of the curve," the group said in their study. 

Luzon, home to nearly half of the Philippines' 100 million population, was placed under lockdown on March 17 as the government moved to contain the spread of COVID-19.

The lockdown, which was supposed to end on April 12, was extended until April 30 as the government said it needed more time to prepare for a "new normal."

Palace spokesperson Harry Roque had said that President Rodrigo Duterte was expected to decide on Thursday evening whether to end, extend, or modify the enhanced community quarantine in Luzon. 

The UP researchers cautioned against the lifting of the lockdown at a crucial time when the country appears close to flattening the curve. 

"The disruption caused by lifting ECQ prematurely before the pandemic has been controlled with certainty could be catastrophic... One possible scenario caused by lifting the ECQ prematurely shows a surge in deaths from 650 to 3,800 and in the number of COVID-19 cases from 10,000 to 80,000 by May 31, 2020," the group said.

The group said it is advisable to wait until the curve has flattened before lifting the lockdown. 

"[We recommend] that the national government consider extending the enhanced community quarantine beyond April 30, 2020... The goal is to sustain these gains until such time that the [government] has scaled up and rolled out its programs and its initiatives for mass testing, contact tracing and isolation of infective individuals."

Based on their analysis of Department of Health data, the group also said the government may however relax or modify quarantine rules in the following provinces:

  • Ilocos Norte
  • Ilocos Sur
  • Abra
  • Cagayan
  • Isabela
  • Nueva Vizcaya
  • Camarines Sur
  • Occidental Mindoro
  • Oriental Mindoro
  • Marinduque
  • Palawan
  • Romblon
  • Provinces that have not recorded a single case of COVID-19

As of Thursday, there have been 6,981 COVID-19 cases in the Philippines. Of that number, 722 have recovered and 462 have died.