After a significant decline in the number of coronavirus disease (COVID-19) cases in the country, experts who are studying the outbreak in the Philippines noted an increase in the number of confirmed cases over the past week.
In its latest monitoring report released on Tuesday, the OCTA Research Team said that there was a rise in new COVID-19 cases recorded over the past week following a decreasing trend from August 10 to September 6.
“The numbers have increased not only in NCR (National Capital Region) but across the country. It has decreased from almost 4,000 to around 2,000 cases but last week biglang tumaas na naman (it suddenly rose again),” University of the Philippines (UP) Professor Ranjit Rye of the OCTA Research Team said.
Based on the report, the seven-day average of new cases nationwide has increased to 3,424 from September 7 to 3, compared to the 2,871 recorded in August 31 to September 6.
Despite the change in the number of cases, the research group observed that the reproduction number or “r-naught,” which is used to measure the number of people a single confirmed case can infect, remained at 0.96, still below 1.
“Yung r-naught natin kapag lagpas na ng 1 masamang senyales na iyon pero kapag less than 1, ibig sabihin ay humihina ang pagkalat ng virus. So far, na-maintain naman natin kaya ang goal natin ay i-sustain pa ito kahit na may kaunting pagtaas,” Rye said.
(When the r-naught is above 1, it’s a bad sign, but if less than 1, it means that the spreading of the virus is slowing down. So far, we have maintained it so our goal is to sustain it even there’s a slight increase in cases.)
The same was also noted in the capital region, which has been the epicenter of the Philippines’ outbreak from the beginning, wherein the number of new COVID-19 cases over the past week climbed to 1,580 per day, but the r-naught is still less than 1 with a current average value of 0.92.
Meanwhile, the positivity rate in Metro Manila, or the share of tests that come back positive, decreased to 11 percent, as well as the hospital occupancy which is now below critical level despite an increase in hospital bed capacity.
Aside from the NCR, the province of Laguna and Bacolod City remained with high number of cases but no significant change was recorded in trends.
According to Rye, the team also noticed a significant increase in daily new COVID-19 cases in Metro Manila’s neighboring provinces particularly Cavite, Batangas, Rizal, and Bulacan which all had more than 100 new daily cases.
These provinces, Rye said, are considered as “high-risk areas” where the reproduction number is greater than 1.
Other areas with increasing trend and number of cases over the past week are Bataan, Tarlac, Zambales, Benguet, Cagayan, Isabela, La Union, Oriental Mindoro, Palawan, Pangasinan, Agusan Del Norte, Cotabato City, Maguindanao, Misamis Oriental, and South Cotabato.
In the team’s analysis, hospitals in Cavite, Rizal, Bulacan and Negros Occidental are also close to critical levels, while positivity rates in Negros Occidental and Calabarzon are still above 10 percent.
Reduced physical distancing in PUVs is bad
With the increase in COVID-19 cases, the OCTA Research Team also called on the Department of Transportation (DOTr) to “consider rolling back” the implementation of its policy of reducing physical distancing between passengers in public transport.
The team pointed out that the new policy has not been thoroughly studied for its possible impact on enabling the transmission of the virus.
“Nakikita natin na maganda ang intensyon ng DOTr na makapagprovide ng transportation sa ating mga kababayan. Importante talaga ang transportasyon sa pagbukas ng ekonomiya, ‘yun nga lang ang kalusugan ay hindi dapat malagay sa alanganin,” Rye explained.
(We know that the DOTr has a good intention which is to provide sufficient transportation to our countrymen. It is really important in the opening of the economy, but our health should also not be in jeopardy.)
The political science professor added that there are other “safer” options that the Department can implement to provide mobility to the public such as expanding the number of PUVs on the road, exploring the service contracting provision included under Bayanihan 2 law, or fast-tracking the bus rapid transit system.
“Sana hindi na pabayaan na kumalat pa at magka-surge na naman ulit kagaya nung nangyari nung July at August na napuno ang mga hospitals at nahirapan ang mga healthcare workers pati na ang mga COVID and non-COVID patients,” he said.
(I hope it will not spread again and have a surge like what happened in July and August when hospitals were full and healthcare workers as well as COVID and non-COVID patients suffered.)
Rye also urged the public to continue observing at least one or two meters of physical distancing to prevent the spread of the dreaded disease and reminded them to not be complacent as the threat of being infected is still there.
The group is also recommending the implementation of more aggressive and effective localized lockdowns and stricter border controls, apart from a scaled-up test, trace, isolate and treatment programs to “suppress further transmissions and to sustain the gains from the last modified enhanced community quarantine.”
“We also recommend that hospital capacity be carefully monitored and expanded in hotspots which are approaching the limit of their bed capacity because of the increase in the number of COVID-19 cases,” the research team said.
“This implementation of the current quarantine must also be augmented with better pandemic surveillance, more effective strategies for physical distancing, and compliance with other health protocols, including the vigorous promotion of personal hygiene practices, and the wearing of masks and other personal protective equipment,” it added.