Philippine granular lockdowns vs COVID-19 face challenges

Benise Balaoing, ABS-CBN News

Posted at Sep 06 2021 11:35 AM

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MANILA – Granular lockdowns may not work in the Philippines as it may threaten the livelihood of Filipinos who have to travel to their workplaces, the Philippine College of Physicians said Monday.

“What about the people who will have to go to their workplaces? Whose workplaces may probably not be in the same locality where they are but it will probably in another local government unit? Will the workplaces be able to you know understand their absence?” Dr. Maricar Limpin said in an interview on ANC Rundown. 

“Because it is open, the industry is open and therefore this actually makes it quite difficult for people to really follow the lockdown. They will still go out because they want to be assured that they will still continue to have work.”

“And that is very important so I don’t think that really these granular lockdowns will really be as effective as what they would like to say,” she said.

Limpin also said data cited by the government as the basis for the decision to switch to granular lockdowns "do not speak of what is happening on the ground."

“The emergency rooms are full, the ICU and even the regular wards are full,” she noted.

OCTA Research fellow Dr. Guido David also said there is no evidence that granular lockdowns are effective against the widespread community transmission of COVID-19.

“Regarding the granular lockdowns in the past, we have not seen any evidence that it has been effective when we have a widespread community transmission. And when we look at some (local government units) data, we see that 99 percent of their barangays, at least maybe 90 percent of their barangays have new cases,” David said.

“Granular lockdowns would work if it’s concentrated in certain regions,” he said.

David cited as an example the failure of the government to curb the spread of the COVID-19 in March by implementing granular lockdowns in some barangays in Pasay City.

“In the past we have seen that when we were having a surge back in March, they imposed granular lockdowns in Pasay City, but it was not able to contain the surge and we had to go to an (enhanced community quarantine) to contain the surge eventually.”

“So we are concerned that if this does not work, at a point when we’re actually seeing that the curve might plateau soon in two to three weeks, there’s a chance that we might lose effective control of the pandemic, and it will become much worse than it is.”

GRANULAR LOCKDOWNS AND COVID CASES

David clarified that the research group thinks that the country won’t reach 30,000 daily fresh cases of COVID-19 if Metro Manila and other areas remain under modified enhanced community quarantine for the next few weeks.

“We might reach 25,000, 26,000 or so cases. We’re not seeing 30,000 if we retain the current MECQ at this time,” he said.

But he adds that the switch to more granular lockdowns in the country may “change things.”

“It will depend on the implementation, how strict it is, are we able to scale up mass testing, mass randomized testing and improve our contact tracing?” he said.

Citing the case of Navotas, David said it’s important to ramp up testing and contact tracing in order to make sure granular lockdowns are more effective against the spread of the deadly disease.

“I was talking to a mayor a few weeks ago, actually I can mention his name--Mayor Toby (Tiangco), and he said they were conducting testing on people who were not following health protocols, people who were out in the streets and they got a 15 percent positivity from these tests. So what this means is these are people who were not contact-traced and they were not known to be exposed. They’re just out in the streets doing their business, going to work or something, and 1 out of 7 of them are infected.”

“So...how can we have granular lockdowns that we’ll lockdown a certain barangay but we don’t know how many people are mobile and carrying the virus to other cities?” he said.

“We should be testing twice as many as we are testing right now. And this is just the testing for the contacts and the known cases. We should be doing more randomized testing so that we can check who are out there in the streets that may have the virus,” he added.


BORDER CONTROLS 

Aside from increasing testing and contact tracing, Limpin said government must put stricter border controls in place to curb COVID-19 transmission among the different regions in the country.

“People can come in the National Capital Region very freely. There is, I have not seen, real intervention taking place, to ensure that a positive individual will not be able to come in into Metro Manila. But outside, going outside, it’s a different thing. It’s good like in Batangas, in Laguna they have a stricter border control. But in NCR, no. There is no border control whatsoever.”

She also said government must impose tighter restrictions on travel to the Philippines to the prevent the entry of new coronavirus variants into the country.

“That is why we keep on seeing a lot of these COVID-19 variants. Most of these variants actually came from outside because we do not have a good border control in place. You know these variants are now here seen in the country.”

“So that’s actually a very good indicator of how good our border control is. It means that its very, very poorly implemented because we are seeing a lot of variants in the country,” she said.