Experts note 'uptick' in COVID-19 cases in provincial virus hotspots

Researchers studying the coronavirus pandemic in the country saw an "uptick" of COVID-19 cases in some provincial hotspots, prompting them to urge the government "to carefully study together" with health sector experts the reopening of the economy.

In its latest report published on Monday, October 12, the Octa Research Group sounded cautionary as the government weighs in on lifting restrictions to stimulate the economy, making sure "that these will not contribute to further transmission of the virus."

"As the national government decides to further expand economic activity all over the country, the reality of a surge in viral transmissions will not be a question of if, but of when and by how much.  It is in this light, that we  reiterate the urgent need for the national government to scale-up the capacities of our health care system," said report.

In particular, the research group recommended that together with pushing the economy, the country's health care system must also have the following:

  1. Increased capacity to deal with the potential outbreaks
  2. Sufficient testing capability to cope with the expected increase in cases
  3. Sufficient personal protection equipment (PPE) supplies for the frontliners
  4. Sufficient number of isolation facilities in  the NCR and around the country
  5. Roll out of an effective and aggressive system for contact tracing for active case finding

The Octa Research report identified the following provinces with the most number of new COVID-19 cases per day over the past two weeks:

  • National Capital Region (NCR) – 902
  • Cavite – 208
  • Rizal – 131
  • Batangas – 121
  • Laguna – 121
  • Bulacan – 98
  • Negros Occidental – 93
  • Iloilo – 81

In a text message to Rappler, professor Guido David of the Octa Research Group clarified that there was no uptick in cases in virus epicenter NCR but it still had the highest caseload.

"(Infection rate in) NCR is actually decreasing," David said.

The positivity rate for NCR has decreased to 8%. However, this was still above the World Health Organization (WHO) ideal rate of 5%.

It also noted that the following LGUs in the NCR had a decrease in new cases for the past two consecutive weeks: San Juan, Pateros, Makati, Marikina, Mandaluyong, Muntinlupa, Taguig, Las Piñas, Navotas.

Meanwhile, the group noted the decreasing trend of COVID-19 cases in the country, adding that the country was able to keep the coronavirus reproduction number – or the number of people that one positive case can infect – to below 1. The reproduction number in the Philippines was now at 0.87.

The group said that the government should also consider reverting the following areas to stricter quarantine measures or placing them under localized lockdowns due to spikes in COVID-19 cases:

  • Bauan, Batangas;
  • Calbayog, Western Samar;
  • General Trias, Cavite.

Aside from this, the group also advised the government to ramp up its testing capacity in areas in Mindanao where the positivity rate was high. These include Butuan, General Santos, Cotabato City, Marawi, and Cagayan de Oro.

Why this matters

Authorities leading the Philippines' coronavirus response said that the country has entered "Phase 3" of the government's plan to address the coronavirus pandemic in October, a phase that would involve allowing more businesses to operate and more people to leave their homes while abiding by health protocols.

In Phase 3, the government hoped to encourage more businesses and sectors to operate again and at higher capacities than before. This would pose a risk, if not carefully planned, as most areas identified by Octa Research Group as high-risk were provinces adjacent to Metro Manila.

According to David, they could not identify yet the reason for the uptick in cases in these provinces but said that it could be "people moving across borders" and it could also be community transmission.

As of Monday, the Philippines ranked 18th worldwide in terms of number of coronavirus cases, overtaking Saudi Arabia which reported 339,267 total cases as of Sunday, according to its health ministry as tracked by the website worldometers.info.

The virus has so far infected over 342,000 in the country and killed more than 6,300. – 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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