By Ellalyn De Vera-Ruiz
Experts from the University of the Philippines (UP) said that the implementation of the enhanced community quarantine (ECQ) has proven to be successful in some areas, with the country’s coronavirus transmission rate going down, suggesting “the curve is close to flattening and the pandemic may soon die out.”
In a study released on Wednesday, professors Guido David and Ranjit Singh Rye, with research associate Ma. Patricia Agbulos, found that “the rate of increase has slowed since the initial wave of cases, down from 20 percent increase on March 29 to two percent increase currently.”
“The ECQ has proven to
be successful, especially for a nation that has been challenged in many areas, specifically the lack of available mass testing and hospital facilities,” the team said.
They noted, however, that the number of cases is still increasing at a steady rate and that there is still a need to reduce significantly the number of new coronavirus disease (COVID-19) cases to be able to control the pandemic.
“The ECQ needs to be continued in certain areas in order to win the war against COVID-19,” the experts pointed out.
Three regions in Luzon, namely the National Capital Region (NCR), CALABARZON (Cavite, Laguna, Batangas, Rizal, and Quezon), and Central Luzon (Aurora, Bataan, Bulacan, Nueva Ecija, Pampanga, Tarlac, and Zambales) that were analyzed in the report, have shown indications that the curve is flattening in these areas, except for Navotas, Malabon, and Valenzuela cities.
The study also showed that the average reproduction in Cebu “has increased dramatically over the past weeks,” which means that the virus may spread even with ECQ in place.
The average reproduction in Davao City, meanwhile, is still slightly high but it may go down should the implementation of the ECQ in the metropolis continues, the experts pointed out.
The team clarified that “while the curve has flattened or is close to flattening in major affected regions in the Philippines, including CALABARZON, Central Luzon, Panay Island, and most cities in the NCR, the flattening of the curve is not a permanent state.”
“It needs sustained enforcement of social distancing,” the experts said. “Without certainty in the number of cases due to lack of mass testing, we may still be in the dark regarding the actual gravity of the pandemic. Further, there are still new COVID-19 cases in most of these regions that, if not managed properly, could lead to new outbreaks similar to the case in Cebu City.”
The team reiterated its recommendation that health safeguards must be in place, aside from a decline or absence of cases for at least two weeks.
These minimum safeguards include mass randomized testing capability, effective contact tracing, and sufficient health facilities, equipment, and isolation areas to deal with COVID-19 cases and other diseases.
“These are crucial if we are exploring loosening or modifying restrictions. We caution the government on the premature relaxation of the ECQ without substantial data and without the minimum health safeguards in place in affected areas regardless of the historical number of cases,” the experts said.
Genome study on samples
A study by the Philippine Genome Center (PGC) revealed on Thursday that coronavirus infections in Metro Manila between March 22 and 28 were community-acquired but cluster closely with samples collected from Japan, Australia, and China.
Through its Core Facility for Bioinformatics, the PGC deposited six genome sequence samples of the severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2 (SARS-COV-2), the virus that causes COVID-19, in the Global Initiative on Sharing All Influenza Data (GISAID) database.
GISAID is a global databank for the sharing of genomic information of all influenza data by researchers around the world.
A team of physicians and epidemiologists from the University of the Philippines
(UP) National Institutes of Health and the Philippine General Hospital collected the specimens as part of the Department of Science and Technology-Philippine Council for Health Research and Development-sponsored field validation of the UP-developed GenAmplify COVID-19 detection kit led by PGC Deputy Executive Director Raul Destura.
PGC found that the cases from March 22 to 28 had no travel history outside the Philippines.
“Two of the sequences reveal that the community-acquired infections cluster closely with samples collected from Japan and Australia from February 15 to March 14, 2020, while four cluster closely with a sample collected from Shanghai, China on February 4, 2020,” the experts said.
The team has also been tracking sequence variations from the local cases of coronavirus as part of its surveillance of regions targeted by the test kits, and to see if regions where various vaccines are targeted are mutating or not in local COVID-19 samples.