MANILA (2nd UPDATE)—The modified strict lockdown in Metro Manila and nearby provinces should be extended, even as the trend of COVID-19 cases have started to decline, 2 local officials and an infectious disease expert said Tuesday.
The NCR Plus bubble, composed of the capital region, Bulacan, Cavite, Rizal and Laguna, is under modified enhanced community quarantine (MECQ) until April 30 following a surge in virus cases.
Metro Manila mayors will reach a consensus on its quarantine status recommendation to national government "within the day," said Parañaque mayor Edwin Olivarez.
"Meron po kaming mixed reaction po dito. Sa akin pong palagay, siguro kailangan po natin i-maintain ang ating MECQ siguro isang linggo pa," Olivarez told ABS-CBN's Teleradyo.
(The reaction is mixed. I think we need to maintain MECQ for maybe another week.)
In a separate interview on Teleradyo, San Juan Mayor Francis Zamora said: "Sa ngayon di ko pa nakikita ang resulta ng aming votation. Ako ay mas pabor talaga na manatili ang MECQ. Bagamat nakakaranas tayo ng pagbaba ng bilang ng kaso, ito ay nasa lebel pa rin na mataas."
(I haven't seen the results of how we voted, but I'm in favor of staying in MECQ. The number of cases has declined, but it remains high.)
Zamora said San Juan only had 61 active infections in the beginning of March, which ballooned to more than 1,100 at the peak of the virus surge and has since gone down to 741 as of Tuesday.
Virus infections have begun to decrease but hospital utilization rates remained high, said Dr. Rontgene Solante, head of adult infectious diseases at San Lazaro Hospital.
"Ang recommendation ko, if you're going to ask me, is to really extend it. Mukhang meron na tayong momentum na bumababa ang mga kaso natin dito sa hospitals... I would highly suggest, kung pwede sana maiextend ng 2 or 3 weeks siguro mas maganda," he said.
(My recommendation, if you're going to ask me, is to really extend it because it seems there's momentum in terms of decreasing cases in hospitals . . . I would highly suggest that MECQ be extended for 2 or 3 weeks.)
The capacity of intensive care units in the NCR Plus bubble is at 70 percent as of Monday, said Dr. Bernadette Velasco, operations manager of government's ONE Hospital Command.
The referral hotline receives an average of 300 calls per day from suspect COVID-19 patients to those with critical illness, Velasco said.
Zamora said Cardinal Santos Medial Center has been "full ever since" COVID-19 cases began to rise mid-March, while San Juan Medical Center has a 70 percent utilization rate.
The city's primary quarantine facility was 84 percent full and its national high school, also used as an isolation center, was at 33-percent capacity, according to the mayor.
Some container vans composed of 52 individual isolation rooms will open in a "few days," Zamora said.
Meanwhile, Solante added that the spread of the new and highly transmissible COVID-19 variants first detected in the UK and South Africa is the "most important reason why we have a surge of cases."
"The fact also that most of the transmission now is in the household will also involve the possibility na mataas ang risk ng airborne kasi sa mga bahay enclosed, maliit, kadalasan hindi nagsusuot ng face mask and face shield, walang physical distance," he said.
(The fact also that most of the transmission now is in the household will also involve the possibility that there's a high risk it is airborne because houses are enclosed, small, and people do not usually wear face masks and face shields inside, and there's no physical distancing.)
"These are all the factors that I see is the ones that are really driving it (surge)."
The Philippines on Monday breached the 1 million mark with 8,929 new COVID-19 cases, becoming the 26th nation in the world to reach the grim milestone, and the 2nd in Southeast Asia.
The DOH over the weekend noted a slight decline in new coronavirus infections in the past week, after stricter lockdowns were reintroduced in Metro Manila and its nearby provinces of Rizal, Bulacan, Laguna, and Cavite.
Hospitals around the metro said they still felt overwhelmed with the number of COVID-19 cases even as government has expanded bed capacity.