More people in Metro Manila are being infected by SARS-CoV-2, the pathogen that causes coronavirus disease (COVID-19) as experts noted an upward trend in the number of cases in the region over the past week.
In its latest monitoring report released on Tuesday, the OCTA Research Team also observed a spike in the reproduction number(R-naught) in the National Capital Region (NCR) which has increased to 1.17.
OCTA had earlier explained that a transmission rate above the critical level of 1 means the virus is spreading faster, while below 1 means local transmissions are being controlled.
According to OCTA, the last time the R-naught in NCR was above 1 was on December 21 at 1.02.
The R-naught remained below 1 throughout the holiday season as the daily new COVID-19 cases decreased to 295 from the average 500 before Christmas.
However, OCTA Research fellow Dr. Guido David said the decrease was only “artificial” as testing was reduced by more than 40 percent during the holidays due to closed testing centers.
With testing centers resuming normal operations this year, OCTA observed that the number of new cases in NCR has increased to more than 400.
“There is a clear upward trend now, and if this upward trend continues, the local governments will need to implement measures to reverse this direction before the pandemic gets out of hand,” the group warned.
On the other hand, OCTA said the positivity rate in NCR, or the share of tests that come back positive, remained at 4 percent over the past week, still below the 5 percent benchmark used by the World Health Organization (WHO).
Situation in Metro Manila cities
Based on the same report, OCTA listed Marikina as a “local government unit (LGU) of concern” as daily new cases in the city significantly increased by 127% compared to the previous weeks.
OCTA added that Marikina also had the highest positivity rate among LGUs in Metro Manila at 11 percent.
Meanwhile, Quezon City is still the top LGU with the highest number of new COVID-19 cases per day from January 4 to 10 with 76 cases, followed by Manila with 46, Pasig with 29, and Parañaque and Marikina with 25 each.
None of the 17 LGUs in NCR exceeded the 70 percent critical level for hospital occupancy over the past week.
However, Pateros is already near the critical level at 67 percent.
With this, the research team urged the local officials to further intensify their efforts at testing, tracing, and isolation to reverse the increase in transmissions in the communities.
It also asked the national government to further ensure effective and stricter border controls to mitigate further COVID-19 transmissions including the possible entry of the more infectious variant from the United Kingdom.
“Given the real threat of a surge in the NCR, all the LGUs concerned should also start preparing public health systems and personnel, and increase health care capacity to deal with the influx of cases in the next few weeks,” OCTA said in its report.
The public was also reminded national and local governments to monitor and strictly enforce the public’s compliance with minimum health standards such as physical distancing, wearing of face masks and face shields, and proper hygiene.
Extend travel ban
With the current trend, Dr. Guido David, a fellow of OCTA Research, is urging the government to extend the country’s travel ban on more than 30 countries to two more weeks.
“I-monitor muna natin kahit two weeks kasi may mga ibang bansa na nakakuha ng bagong variant at saka may ibang bansa din na may bagong variant na later lang natin alam tulad ng South Africa at saka Nigeria. So, hindi pa natin talaga alam lahat ng may mga bagong variant (Let’s monitor first, for two weeks at least, because there are already countries which have the new variant and countries which discovered a new variant like South Africa and Nigeria, which we knew only of late. We’re still not really sure which countries have the new variant),” David told DZMM Teleradyo in an interview Wednesday.
The possibility that the new variant has entered the country should not be dismissed just yet, David said. “Di pa tapos yung kaso ng variant. [Hindi] dahil di na mainit yung balita ng bagong variant o hindi ibig sabihin na wala na ‘yan (The case of the new variant is not over. Just because you don’t hear about the new variant as often in the news, that doesn’t mean it no longer exists),” he added.
The travel restriction imposed by the government on 33 countries will end on Jan. 15, Friday.
The countries covered by the travel ban are China, South Korea, United States, Japan, Brazil, Australia, United Kingdom, Pakistan, Jamaica, Luxembourg, Oman, Austria, China, Portugal, India, Finland, Norway, Jordan, Denmark, Ireland, Israel, The Netherlands, Hong Kong, Switzerland, France, Germany, Iceland, Italy, Lebanon, Singapore, Sweden, South Korea, South Africa, Canada, and Spain.
If the government decides to lift the travel restrictions, David said strict border control in airports must be put in place.
“Kailangan strict pati yung monitoring at quarantine. Kailangan strictly nila mapatupad yan talagang 14 days. Sa ibang bansa nga, hindi lang 14 days (There should be strict monitoring and quarantine. They need to strictly implement the 14-day quarantine. Actually in other countries, quarantine is more than 14 days),” David said.
The OCTA team is an independent and interdisciplinary research group that has been monitoring the COVID19 situation in the Philippines.
It is composed primarily of UP faculty members and alumni with contributors from the University of Santo Tomas and Providence College, USA. (With a report from Noreen Jazul)