EXPLAINER: What is a ‘circuit breaker’ lockdown?

EXPLAINER: What is a ‘circuit breaker’ lockdown?

LOCKDOWN. Police and barangay officials conduct foot patrol to secure residents inside their homes following the implementation of the 4-day lockdown at Barangay 351 in Sta. Cruz, Manila on Thursday, March 11, 2021, after a spike in coronavirus-related cases in the area.


Experts suggest a 'circuit breaker' lockdown, saying a COVID-19 surge has hit Metro Manila

Experts studying the COVID-19 pandemic in the Philippines have said that Metro Manila was experiencing a surge in cases and recommended a “circuit breaker” lockdown for two weeks.

The warning and recommendation come in the wake of the local transmission of the highly infectious Delta variant that is threatening to spread the virus faster. As of Thursday, July 29, the health department has reported at least 216 known cases of the Delta variant in the country.

The Department of Health has said that there is a lack of “definitive evidence” that Metro Manila is experiencing a surge of COVID-19 cases. Regardless, Health Secretary Francisco Duque III agreed with independent group Octa Research, saying that a circuit breaker lockdown should be put in place.

What is a circuit breaker lockdown and what should Filipinos expect if it is enforced?

From enhanced community quarantine (ECQ), to modified ECQ, to general community quarantine (GCQ) and so forth, the country began to see quarantines easing throughout 2020. But as the March 2021 surge happened, the government started to recall restrictions and again limit the places people could go to once again.

Switching from loose to tight lockdowns when cases surge is called a “circuit breaker.” When the spread of the disease is somewhat contained, the government can relax restrictions again. The circuit can break again if another surge happens, and the cycle repeats. Circuit breakers are the best and safest option when cases surge, according to Professor Jomar Rabajante of the University of the Philippines (UP) Pandemic Response Team, since they take into consideration both health and the economy.

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.

The Octa Research group also recommended on March 19 that Metro Manila should be placed in a circuit breaker lockdown. This is meant to “reverse the tide of the epidemic” and curb the infections.

“If we don’t deal with the surge now effectively and quickly, it will complicate our vaccination program. Many of our hospitals are at full capacity…. We need to deal with it, and we need to deal with it collectively,” Octa Research fellow Professor Ranjit Rye had said in March.

Rabajante said the government is better able to decide on lockdown rules when it has alarm systems. One alarm system is defining thresholds – deciding the tolerable number of cases before an intervention is made. For example, if the daily rise in cases exceeds 500 for a certain period of time, then the government can decide to enforce the strictest ECQ.

The public must also monitor the government’s response, Rabajante said. While circuit breakers are a good strategy for when alarm thresholds are reached, they are also a bad sign as they indicate that the government is not sustainably containing the outbreak. 

Increasing testing capacities, efficient contact tracing, and ramping up healthcare facilities would help prevent having to go through the circuit breaker cycle again. –