Experts warn PH may see 6,000 new cases daily by March 31

Experts studying the coronavirus pandemic in the Philippines said on Sunday, March 7, that data on the recent increase in cases across Metro Manila showed that “a surge is already underway” in the capital region.

Octa Research warned that, if the surge is not managed, the Philippines may see 6,000 new coronavirus cases daily by March 31. 

Based on a study released by Octa Research on Sunday, Metro Manila saw an average of 1,025 new cases per day in the past week, translating to a 42% increase in new cases from the previous week. Compared to two weeks ago, the average number of new infections increased by 130%, it added. 

Octa said the data echoed the increase in cases seen in July 2020, when the Philippines saw a deadly surge in cases that nearly crippled the country’s health system. (READ: Doctors warn Duterte: PH 'nearing end of the line' in coronavirus battle)

“Based on our analysis of the data and the past trends in the NCR (National Capital Region), we believe that a surge is already underway in some LGUs (local government units) in the region. Unlike past surges experienced, the current surge has spread very quickly in a short period,” Octa said.

Unlike the big increase in cases seen last July to August, Octa said the rate of increase in new cases seen in recent weeks was faster, with the surge spreading “more quickly.”

“The last time the region had seen this rate of increase was in July 2020. However, this surge is spreading more quickly than the July-August surge,” it said.

With the rate of increase in new cases and current reproduction number of 1.66, Octa said Metro Manila could see 2,000 new cases per day by March 21 and 3,000 new cases per day by March 31. Nationwide, the Philippines was also projected to count 5,000 to 6,000 new cases per day by the end of March.

The reproduction number is the number of people one positive case can infect. Experts recommended keeping this below 1 for the pandemic to reach manageable levels. Before the recent uptick in cases, Metro Manila had managed to meet this target. 

Threat of variants

Octa suspected the surge could be related to the presence of new COVID-19 variants in the country, including those first found in the United Kingdom and South Africa – though this still needs to be confirmed by genome sequencing. 

“The original strain does not spread this quickly considering the health guidelines in place,” the group said. 

Looking closer at Metro Manila, Octa said data from the Department of Health showed “very sharp two-week increases of more than 40% increase per week were observed in Quezon City, Makati, Taguig, Parañaque, Caloocan, and Mandaluyong.” 

Screenshot of LGUs with most number of new cases from Octa Research

Meanwhile, Octa said cities in Metro Manila were still classified as high risk according to attack rate, including Pasay, Makati, Malabon, and Navotas. The group noted Pasay had a “very high 30 [new cases] per 100,000 [people] daily attack rate,” while Malabon and Navotas have slowed down. 

On March 5, the Department of Health reported 52 additional cases of the South African variant of COVID-19, bringing the total cases of this virus type in the country to 58. The new cases included 41 who have indicative addresses in Metro Manila, while 11 cases were still being verified to determine whether these are local cases or among returning overseas Filipinos.

Experts are worried about the South African variant as it carries a mutation called N501Y that appears to make it easier to spread. The variant may also have an impact on vaccine efficacy, though experts have said it is still too early to tell and it is extremely unlikely the mutations would render vaccines useless.

Across the Philippines, the group said health data showed on the one hand, Cebu City, Lapu-Lapu City, and Mandaue City on a downward trend, while new cases in Davao City decreased. On the other hand, Baguio City is now seeing an upward trend in new cases.

Screenshot of barangays with the most number of new cases from Octa Research

Early, urgent preparations needed

Octa said that while the increase in cases in Metro Manila is a “serious cause for concern,” measures could still be taken to mitigate and possibly even reverse its impact. These include implementing localized lockdowns and stricter border control to suppress transmission of the virus between areas.

“Based on the available data, we believe that the increases in new cases observed in many LGUs in the NCR and around the country are largely cases of community transmission exacerbated by the possible spread of a new and more contagious variant apart from the rise in mobility within and among provinces,” the group said. 

Aside from this, Octa urged the government to ensure the efficient deployment of vaccines in March. Health workers are being prioritized for the vaccination.

“While the surge in COVID-19 cases in the NCR is a serious cause for concern, it is still in its early stages, and we believe it can still be mitigated or even reversed. To achieve this, we need to act as one and we need to act now while the situation in the region is still manageable,” Octa said. – Rappler.com

Sofia Tomacruz

Sofia Tomacruz covers foreign affairs and is the lead reporter on the coronavirus pandemic. She also writes stories on the treatment of women and children. Follow her on Twitter via @sofiatomacruz. Email her at sofia.tomacruz@rappler.com.

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