MANILA— A UP research group on Saturday noted a downtrend in the number of coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) cases in the country but said epicenter Metro Manila must remain under general community quarantine (GCQ), warning that a premature easing would lead to an "exponential" rise come Christmas time.
In a report, the UP OCTA research group noted a decline in the number of cases in the country, including the capital region, even as they warned that this trend is "not irreversible" and much needs to be done to sustain it before further relaxing quarantine measures.
The GCQ status in Metro Manila lapses by the end of the month and government is expected to announce its decision on the quarantine level before then.
While numbers say the situation in NCR has "improved," the UP group also noted that Metro Manila has yet to achieve the 28-day case doubling time set by the country’s pandemic task force as a prerequisite to further change into the more relaxed modified GCQ status.
"The national government must sustain the GCQ status in NCR coupled with further improvements in its testing, tracing, and isolation programs not just to sustain the gains of the last MECQ but to also prevent a surge in the coming months," the report’s recommendations read.
Last August, Metro Manila was placed under modified enhanced community quarantine (MECQ), the second strictest of the area-based lockdown classifications the government is implementing for its COVID-19 response, on the plea of exhausted health workers for a timeout as they warned that the health care system was on the verge of collapse.
Cases had spiked after quarantine measures were eased to revive the crippled economy on July.
Hospital occupancy in the metropolis, while remaining "significant," is now below 70 percent critical level, according to the research team.
Data as of September 21 showed that some 57 percent of COVID-19 beds in Metro Manila were occupied. Occupancy for COVID-19 beds dedicated to critical care was at 65 percent.
For this month, cases in Metro Manila have decreased to about 1,200 new cases per day, a "more than 50-percent decline compared to 5 weeks ago.”
COVID-19 reproduction rate— a measure of transmission potential— was at 0.74 in Metro Manila from September 16 to 23, according to UP OCTA data, lower than the 0.86 reproduction rate tallied the week before.
Positivity rate— or the number of people who test positive out of the total tested for COVID-19— has been at 10 percent over the past two weeks in the capital region.
Amid such positive indications, the research team warned against prematurely downgrading the quarantine status in the metropolis, saying cases by Christmas time could surge if restrictions are eased in Metro Manila.
"Based on past data and trends, a premature downgrading of the quarantine status in the NCR may increase the risk of a surge in December, around Christmas time,” the researchers said.
Officials earlier said they were considering placing Metro Manila under modified GCQ, the lowest of the four quarantine classifications.
HIGH-RISK AREAS, HOTSPOTS
For nationwide case data, UP OCTA also noted a decrease in case numbers for the whole country, with the government tallying less than 3,000 cases daily over the past few days.
Bulacan, Batangas, Cavite, Laguna, Negros Occidental, and Rizal remain "high-risk" areas, but numbers of new cases in these provinces have decreased compared to the previous week.
Emerging COVID-19 "hot-spots," meanwhile, include Baguio City, Iloilo City, Tacloban, Cagayan de Oro, and Nueva Vizcaya, while there is a decreasing trend in previously reported hot spots such as Agusan Del Norte, Capiz, Davao Del Norte, Lanao Del Norte, Lanao Del Sur, Oriental Mindoro, and South Cotabato.
The research group recommended implementing "more effective localized lockdowns" coupled with stricter border controls to stop transmissions, and reiterated the need to implement the "test, trace, and treat" or the T3 strategy as the government is set to again decide on quarantine classifications for October.
"Getting the T3 and isolation strategy scaled up and effectively implemented is key to controlling the spread of the virus," it said.
The research group has modified its projections on case totals in the coming weeks because of the downtrend. From expecting 330,000 to 375,000 cases by the end of September in its August 31 report, the group maintained lowered projections as of September 7 at 310,000 to 330,000 cases by September 30.
It also projected 380,000 to 410,000 cases by October 31.
"It is likely we will reach the lower range of the previous projections, a very positive sign that we are headed in the right direction," it said.
This Saturday, the number of coronavirus cases breached 300,000 nationwide.