In NCR, barangays near commercial hubs hardest hit by virus surge

One year into the pandemic, the Philippines is facing its worst COVID-19 outbreak yet. Filipinos have seen the country breach its record number of new COVID-19 cases multiple times in the past two weeks, with the Department of Health (DOH) logging an all-time high of 8,773 new infections on Thursday, March 25.

Of this number, 4,895 infections are from the National Capital Region (NCR).

Data from the DOH indicate that barangays in or near commercial hubs in the region were among the areas most affected by this unprecedented spike in cases.

These came in the wake of government efforts in 2021 to further reopen the economy. Malacañang and the DOH have offered different explanations for the surge in infections.

Outbreaks in traditionally busy locations

From March 19 to 25, the barangay with the most number of new COVID-19 infections was Fort Bonifacio in Taguig. The village, with 343 fresh cases in the past week, is home to Bonifacio Global City.

The Taguig City government, however, clarified on Thursday that it only registered 116 new COVID-19 cases from March 18-24. It said that the number reported by the DOH included “positive cases that have already recovered, cases that turned out to be negative, presumptive positive cases, equivocal cases, inconclusive cases, and those awaiting results of the tests.”

Second in the list is Pasay city’s Barangay 76, where SM Mall of Asia, one of the largest malls in the Philippines, is located. The village logged 322 fresh cases in the past week.

Barangay 183, also in Pasay, ranked third with 245 new cases in the same period. The village is close to the airport, cluster of hotels, and commercial establishments that include Resorts World Manila, an integrated tourism hub.

Other barangays in the top 10 include:

  • Pio Del Pilar, a commercial area in Makati
  • Parañaque’s Don Bosco, which houses SM Bicutan
  • Bel-air, Makati, which is near the Ayala Triangle Gardens
  • Parañaque’s BF Homes, a known food hub for its wide array of restaurants and eateries.

Some of the barangays in the top 10 are among the most populous villages in their respective cities, a possible reason why they have a high number of COVID-19 cases. These barangays include:

  • Barangay 183 in Pasay
  • Pinagbuhatan in Pasig
  • Commonwealth in Quezon City
  • BF Homes in Parañaque
  • Marulas, the second most populous village in Valenzuela

The table above also showed a comparison between fresh cases reported in the past week and the new cases reported from March 12 to 18. 

Number of cases per capita

A quick glance at the ranking of the 50 villages with the most number of new COVID-19 cases in the past seven days showed that Quezon City has the highest number of barangays in the list, with 12. Parañaque has 9, while Makati and Taguig each have 6.

But a ranking of villages with the highest number of fresh COVID-19 infections per capita in the same period offered an entirely different picture of the city governments’ COVID-19 fight. In the table below, per capita means the number of cases per 1,000 people.

Based on the data, Manila (31 barangays) and Pasay (15 barangays) account for 46 of the top 50 villages with COVID-19 cases. Caloocan has two barangays, while Valenzuela and Taguig each have one.

Topping this ranking is Pasay City’s Barangay 76, which, again, is home to the SM Mall of Asia. Data showed that thus far, around 17% of the village’s population contracted COVID-19 this March.

(Note: Rappler excluded Barangays 99 and 653 in Manila, as well as Barangay 76 in Caloocan when reviewing data, because of extremely low population counts here. The 2015 Census of Population by the Philippine Statistics Authority listed their population count to 20 residents or less.)

Numerous villages are back to square one

Presidential Spokesperson Harry Roque had insisted that the Philippines is "not back to square one" on the first anniversary of the lockdowns in the country. But numbers don’t lie, and some villages are showing a significant increase in new coronavirus infections from February to the first 25 days of March.

Still looking at the top 50 villages in terms of new COVID-19 cases per capita in the past 7 days, areas like Manila’s Barangay 291, which had only one new case in February, had 33 fresh infections as of March 25. 

Pasay's Barangay 154 also logged a notable spike in infections during the same period, from one new case in the month of February to 16 fresh infections in March.

What local governments are doing

For context, Pasay was the first city in Metro Manila to bear the brunt of the entry of the COVID-19 South African variant in the Philippines in early March. It has since placed multiple areas in the city under localized lockdowns.

The nation’s capital, Manila, has done the same. On March 17, the OCTA Research group said there is hope that localized lockdowns “will work to some extent, together with reduced mobility, curfews, stricter implementations, and city ordinances” to reduce the reproduction number in the NCR.

The reproduction number refers to the number of people one COVID-19 case can infect.

OCTA said on Thursday, March 25, that the reproduction number in Metro Manila is 1.91. It must be kept below 1 to slow the spread of infections.

The national government has placed Metro Manila and the provinces of Bulacan, Cavite, Laguna, and Rizal under a travel bubble setup called "NCR Plus" until April 4. OCTA on March 24 said the government may have to put in place stricter lockdown measures if the current bubble setup fails to curb COVID-19 transmissions after a couple of weeks.

Better adherence to protocols

Data from the Department of Labor and Employment showed that 17% of business establishments recorded occupational safety violations of COVID-19 protocols from January to February 2021.

DOLE said on March 23 that the most common violation is the failure of establishments to meet the agency's guideline on including a COVID-19 control plan in their occupational safety and health programs.

The government faces a continuous challenge to keep business establishments in check, making sure that they comply with health safety standards, as the Duterte administration insists on keeping a delicate balance between keeping the economy open and prioritizing the health of Filipinos.

The public, especially those living near a commercial hub, also needs to heed the reminder of the DOH to observe minimum health standards, such as wearing masks and maintaining good hand hygiene.  – Rappler.com

Michael Bueza

Michael is a data curator under Rappler's Tech Team. He works on data about elections, governance, and the budget. He also follows the Philippine pro wrestling scene and the WWE. Michael is also part of the Laffler Talk podcast trio.

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