MANILA - A public health expert on Friday said Metro Manila is ready to transition to general quarantine after a 2-month lockdown, but urged people to exercise vigilance and presence of mind to prevent the spread of the virus.
"For the National Capital Region, I would say we’re ready,” said Dr. Susan Mercado on ANC's Headstart.
This, despite the 539 new cases of the coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) reported on Thursday. The said figure is the highest number of new COVID-19 cases reported in a single day since the start of the pandemic.
In the interview, Mercado said the uptick in coronavirus cases came after government ramped up testing. "We are only beginning to catch up on our testing, so what you're seeing as new cases is reflection of infections that happened maybe more than 2 weeks ago or a week ago,” she said.
She said that based on hospital admissions, there is no increase in the number of people who are in critical care.
“None of our hospitals have actually reached 70 percent capacity in terms of admissions. At the height of our outbreak in Metro Manila, we only went as high as 50 percent full capacity for critical care,” she said.
President Rodrigo Duterte on Thursday announced that Metro Manila will transition to general community quarantine on June 1.
The NCR, home to around 12 million people and the epicenter of the COVID-19 outbreak in the country, was placed on community quarantine beginning March 15, and was included in the Luzon-wide enhanced community quarantine imposed two days later.
The lockdown restricted movement of people and business operations were significantly paralyzed.
INTERACTIONS WITH PEOPLE INDOORS
In the interview, Mercado said the relaxed lockdown poses a new challenge as more people go to different establishments, increasing the risk of transmission.
"I think people need to assess their risk in a different way now. In general, when indoors, you have more interaction with people, you have a higher risk. If you are outdoors in a car, on a motorcycle, walking, on bike, jogging, your risk is less because the main driver of transmission is person to person transmission,” she said.
"The challenge is really for you to be able to protect yourself because we are now on our own. No more limitation outside. We have to exercise vigilance and have that presence of mind to always keep away from crowds, understand that you’re more at risk when you’re indoors than when you’re outdoors,” she added.
In areas under GCQ, almost all industries except for leisure and amusement services will be allowed to operate but in varying levels based on the guidelines of the inter-agency task force.
Some companies are also testing employees going back to work. A group of medical experts has warned against the use of rapid test kits as these are not that effective and could lead to further harm.
“We really have to find what will work for us because there is really no model that applies to everybody. There is value to doing both of these tests, to doing a PCR test, to doing an antibody test, but just a word of caution: the tests are in their infancy. PCR and even the rapid test kits and even kits where blood is drawn still have limitations,” she said.
Meanwhile, Mercado said the statement by the World Health Organization on the slow pace of contact tracing in the Philippines is not helpful to the country.
“We are one of many countries that are struggling because we didn’t have the capacity to test when we started, I think we’re catching up. I think we’ll be in good shape maybe in July or August,” she said.
"We are improving but it doesn’t help when the WHO says you’re slow. They should help us become faster,” she said.
As of May 28, the number of confirmed COVID-19 cases in the Philippines is at 15,588, including 921 deaths and 3,598 recoveries.