Experts suggest 'circuit-breaker' lockdown in PH as Delta threat looms

Experts studying the coronavirus pandemic in the country said the Philippines should be placed under a circuit-breaker lockdown for two weeks as the threat of the highly-infectious COVID-19 Delta variant looms.

In a press briefing aired on state-run PTV, Octa Research fellow Ranjit Rye said that virus epicenter Metro Manila is "officially in a surge," noting the increase in the reproduction number (R) from 0.6 last month to 1.33. R is the number of one positive case can pass the virus on.

Experts have said that the goal is to keep R below 1 to contain virus transmission until a COVID-19 vaccine becomes available. An R above 1 means that the virus is spreading faster.

"We should go early and go hard. That would mean we have anticipatory, preventive, circuit-breaking lockdowns," Rye said. He added that the country should adopt the measure being implemented in Australia and New Zealand.

"Tingin namin, kung gagawin ito over the next two weeks, hindi lang natin mapapababa ‘yung mga kaso, hindi lang natin mapapababa ‘yung mahahawa at mamamatay, mase-save pa natin ang economy kasi napakaikli ng lockdown na gagawin natin," he added.

(We think that if it will be implemented over the next two weeks, we won't only be able to lower the number of cases and deaths, but we will also save the economy because of this very short lockdown.)

What is a circuit-breaker lockdown?

Rye did not give details of what a circuit-breaker lockdown would mean for the Philippines.

A similar type of lockdown was implemented in Singapore in April 2020 to contain the spread of COVID-19. It was a tight set of restrictions meant to "reverse the tide of the epidemic" and curb the infections.

Octa had previously suggested a circuit-breaker lockdown in March, when cases in the country started to spike again. At the time, Octa proposed to place the capital region under this type of lockdown.

Rye explained that time that under such a lockdown, people would observe "voluntary ECQ" and for workplaces to implement a "significant work from home strategy." (Learn more about the circuit breaker lockdown proposal of Octa in March here.)

ECQ or enhanced community quarantine is the strictest form of lockdown where a fixed number of people per household are allowed to leave the home for essential tasks or for work in essential services.

BBC report said that "rules could feel a lot like the original national lockdown – but crucially a circuit-breaker is for a fixed period of time."

Experts abroad said that this kind of lockdown minimize virus transmissions while enabling the authorities to trace the spread of the virus, expand contact tracing, study the variants of virus being spread in a community.

During his final State of the Nation Address on Monday, July 26, President Rodrigo Duterte warned of a new lockdown if the highly-transmissible COVID-19 Delta variant spreads in the country.

Despite his own warning, Duterte contradicted himself when he said in the same speech that the country could not afford more lockdowns.

The Philippines now has 119 known cases of the highly transmissible variant, but there are concerns that the actual number may be far higher, as the Philippine Genome Center is only sequencing a small percentage of the positive cases.

The Delta variant, which was first detected in India, is ravaging Southeast Asian countries like Indonesia, Thailand, and Malaysia.

To prevent further local transmission of the Delta variant, the Philippine government has imposed travel bans where it is widespread. – Rappler.com

Bonz Magsambol

Bonz Magsambol is a multimedia reporter for Rappler, covering health, education, and social welfare. He first joined Rappler as a social media producer in 2016.

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