Two week ‘timeout’ checked COVID-19 spike; sustained efforts urged

An expert from the OCTA Research team said the two-week "timeout" asked by healthcare workers in August was a big help in the current COVID-19 situation in the country which continues to see a downtrend in the number of cases that should be maintained.


Dr. Butch Ong of the OCTA Research group who has been studying the coronavirus outbreak in the country, said figures of new daily cases, reproduction number, as well as the positivity rate have lowered following the enforcement of modified enhanced community quarantine (MECQ).

The timeout pushed the government to place again Metro Manila, Laguna, Cavite, Rizal, and Bulacan under MECQ from August 4 to 18 following pleas of medical frontliners to impose a stricter lockdown due to the continuous spike of COVID-19 cases in the country.

"Before (the) timeout, the new cases per day are almost 4,500 to 5,000. Right after we instituted MECQ, we began seeing the downtrend in the daily new cases. Bagamat ngayon ay nagkaroon ng (Though there is currently a) slight increase, ang ating (our) daily new cases now are at least 3,000," Ong said in a "Laging Handa" briefing on Tuesday.

Meanwhile, Ong said the reproduction number or "r-naught," which is used to measure the number of people one confirmed case can infect, is still below 1 and has further declined to 0.85 across the country, and 0.77 in the capital region.

"When the reproduction number is below 1, ibig sabihin (this means) the virus is actively transmitted into the communities, while below 1 means that it is now being controlled," he explained.

The positivity rate in the capital region, or the share of tests that come back positive, has also decreased to 9 percent, lower than the 10 percent initial target of the group. Ong said this should further reduce to five percent as recommended by the World Health Organization.

While the gains of the two-week MECQ have a positive impact on the current health situation, Ong warned the public to not be complacent and instead be more vigilant and strict in observing safety guidelines.

"Kung mayroon mang panahon na maging mas disiplinado at mas strict tayo sa mga sarili natin, now is time. Ngayon na pababa na ang trend, huwag nating pabayaan ang benefits na nakuha natin ever since the MECQ," Ong said.

(If there will be a time for us to be more disciplined and more strict with ourselves, now is that time. Now that the trend is going down, let's not take for granted the benefits we have received ever since the MECQ.)

"We should still maintain minimal health standards. The downtrend is encouraging but the message here is it can actually surge again at any time so we have to be more disciplined," he emphasized.

The health expert also urged the public to "tell the honest truth" when it comes to contact tracing as he said it is crucial in managing the pandemic.

He also recommended to further improve the country's testing capacity through adding contact tracers and testing facilities to be able to "see a better trending in our projections."

President Duterte approved on Monday the recommendation of the government's coronavirus task force to keep Metro Manila and a few other areas under GCQ until October 31.

The research team, in its monitoring report issued last week, recommended retaining the GCQ status in NCR until its "regional health indicators further improve, and qualify it for the modified GCQ status."

The group explained that prematurely downgrading the quarantine status in high-risk areas, especially in Metro Manila which is currently the epicenter of the pandemic in the country, may lead to "exponential growth in the number of cases and deaths apart from overwhelming our health care system."