'Very possible' for M. Manila to see 4,000 daily COVID-19 cases after Christmas: researchers

Jamaine Punzalan, ABS-CBN News

Posted at Dec 23 2020 03:33 PM | Updated as of Dec 23 2020 09:50 PM

'Very possible' for M. Manila to see 4,000 daily COVID-19 cases after Christmas: researchers 1
Customers look for a bargain as they look at inexpensive Christmas decors and lanterns at the Dapitan Arcade in Quezon City on Dec. 4, 2020. The government has advised the public to celebrate the coming holiday season by following health protocols, and to avoid large family gatherings and parties to avoid a spike of COVID-19 cases in the country. Jire Carreon, ABS-CBN News

MANILA (UPDATE) - A tally of 4,000 new COVID-19 cases per day is "very possible" in Metro Manila after Christmas if the public fails to follow health protocols through the holidays, two members of the academe said on Wednesday. 

Coronavirus infections have started to climb in parts of Metro Manila like Caloocan, Valenzuela, Malabon, Quezon City and Makati, as well as in neighboring Rizal province and parts of Bulacan, said Dr. Guido David from the OCTA Research Group. 

Health Secretary Francisco Duque III also said Wednesday that COVID-19 cases in the National Capital Region (NCR) are rising again, at least in 9 cities, as the metro is caught up in a holiday rush.

“Meron po tayong patunay na nag-uumpisa yung surge, tumataas na po, lalo na dito sa Kamaynilaan. May mga syam na syudad po na mataas na ang bilang ng COVID cases. Tumaas ang attack rate. Tumaas po ang 2-week growth rate. At harinawa, ang kanilang critical care utilization rate ay huwag nang tataas pa sa safe zone," Duque said.

“Kung tuloy-tuloy siyang tumaas pa, it’s very possible ma-hit natin iyong 4,000 cases per day sa Metro Manila by sometime in January or February,” David of the OCTA group said in a separate public briefing. 

(If it continues increasing, it’s very possible that we will hit 4,000 cases per day in Metro Manila sometime in January or February.)

“We are increasing by about a few hundreds lang per day. But it could be that pagdating ng Christmas, after Dec. 25, kung kailan pauwi na ang mga tao, pabalik sa work areas nila or pagdating January…, maaari nating makita ang pagtaas talaga ng numero,” added his colleague Dr. Butch Ong.
 
(We are increasing by about a few hundreds per day. But it could be that by Christmas, after Dec. 25, when people return to their work or come January, we will see bigger numbers.)

The 4,000 daily new cases is the “critical limit” for placing an area under the stricter MECQ or modified enhanced community lockdown, which happened in August, when COVID-19 infections swamped hospitals, said David. 

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The COVID-19 uptick is “still at the early stages” and the public 
“can still keep it or make it go lower,” Ong said. 

Ong urged the public to hold Christmas gatherings in open areas with proper ventilation, limit face-to-face conversations to 30 minutes, celebrate with only one's immediate family, avoid going house-to house, observe physical distancing, and wear anti-virus gear. 

“This is a different kind of Christmas that we’re going to have this season, pero hindi naman big sabihin na dapat tayo ay hindi masaya,” he told the public. 

(But it doesn't mean that we should not be happy.)

“Maaari naman talaga nating ma-prevent ang surge na nagbabanta na… The reason for the season is still there—iba lang talaga ang ating way o paraan ng pag-celebrate,” Ong added. 

(The looming surge can be prevented. The reason for the season is still there—our way of celebrating it will just be different.)

Duque went to Bonifacio Global City (BGC) in Taguig to conduct an inspection of commercial establishments’ compliance to safety protocols and minium health standards mandated by the Department of Health (DOH) and Inter-Agency Task Force on Emerging Infectious Diseases (IATF). 

“Kung hindi po tayo mag-iingat, ma-o-overwhelm na naman ang mga ospital, ang lahat po ng ating facilitites. Kawawa naman po ang ating mga doktor, mga nurses, mga medtech, lab tech, kapag nagpabaya po tayo. Sila po ang mahihirapan,” Duque said.

The DOH has yet to release a list of these 9 cities that Duque mentioned.

In making his rounds in BGC, Duque held a stick to personally measure the distance between customers.

“Dapat po, hindi bababa ng isang metro,” he reminded customers. 

The embattled health chief, who was recently criticized for his failure to secure an initial stockpile of coronavirus vaccines from pharmaceutical giant Pfizer, urged customers to continue to observe one-meter physical distancing, and wear face mask and face shield.

“Mag-ingat po tayo dahil nakikita po natin ang ebidensya ng unti-unting pagtaas ng bilang ng COVID cases sa NCR, lalong lalo na po sa National Capital Region. Kaya ito po ay senyales na lalo pa po nating paigtingin, pag-ibayuhin ang pag-iinga. At wala naman po tayong problema kung ito po ay susundin lang natin at hindi na po hahantong ang atin pong mga kababayan at ang inyo pong kapamilya, mga mahal sa buhay, na baka ma-ospital dahil lang po hindi nasunod sa mga panuntunan at mga minimum health standards,” he said.

He expressed satisfaction with the efforts of commercial establishments to implement the health protocols.

“Maayos ang mga sistema. Ako’y natutuwa sa suporta ng mga management... I am so far satisfied,” he said.
 
Metro Manila, home to around 12 million Filipinos, has recorded 207,162 confirmed COVID-19 cases, as of Dec. 22, after 342 new infections were recorded. The total is broken down as follows: 7,792 active infections, 3,777 deaths, and 195,593 recoveries.

NEW UK STRAIN STILL NOT IN PH

Meanwhile, Duque said the new coronavirus strain reported in the United Kingdom has not yet entered the Philippines, based on the DOH’s monitoring.

The new variant is believed to be more contagious and distinct from the earlier ones, according to UK scientists. 

“Wala pa naman ebidensya na andito na (Philippines) yung new strain. So wala pa yung new strain dito. Pero sa kasalukuyan, ang Philippine Genome Center, gumagawa na po ng pag-aaral ng mga viruses mula po sa mga nagkasakit na mga pasyente," the health Secretary said.

“At pinag-aaralan po yung kanilang genetic sequencing kung tawagin, at doon malalaman natin. Ang pinakahuling pag-aaral nila was sometime in September. So itutuloy lang nila, titingnan, then malalaman kung meron bang nakapasok."

Local experts have not detected any mutation of the coronavirus that can cause more severe symptoms, he said.

“Marami naman talaga yang (virus) mga strains, mutation. But they’re not mutating significant enough na makakaapekto sa severity o sa virulence. So far, ang mga reports, hindi naman po naging malubha yung sakit. O yung 'ika nga infectivity o yung pathogenicity niya ay hindi naman po nagpapakita ng may paglala.”

HOLIDAY REVELRIES

As festivities build up for the rest of the month, Duque urged the eldery to continue to stay in their homes, as they are the coronavirus’ “favorite” target.

He also advised shoppers to plan their trips to the malls, grocery and other establishments, and make a list of items to purchase to limit time spent there and reduce their chance of contracting COVID-19.

He reminded the public as well against lighting firecrackers.

“Wala pong ‘legal’ na firecrackers," Duque said. 

Duque will do hospital rounds next, after December 25, to inspect protocols and COVID-19 response capacity.

The Philippines has recorded a total of 464,004 confirmed COVID-19 cases, as of Wednesday, including 24,984 active infections, 9,048 fatalities, and 429,972 recoveries.

-with report from Ina Reformina, ABS-CBN News