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THE fate of the enhanced community quarantine (ECQ) in Metro Manila and its nearby provinces or the NCR Plus bubble hangs as President Rodrigo Duterte deferred his decision on whether to extend it for another week or downgrade it to modified enhanced community quarantine (MECQ).
“President Rodrigo Roa Duterte is weighing the pros and cons before making his final decision regarding the quarantine classification of the National Capital Region (NCR) Plus Area,” Palace spokesman Harry Roque Jr. said in a statement on Saturday.
The “no decision” comes as 12,674 new cases of the coronavirus disease 2019 (Covid-19) were recorded on Saturday, bringing the total number of infections to 853,209.
“The Chief Executive would like to review and check pertinent information such as the Health Care Utilization Rate (HCUR) of the aforesaid area. We shall provide the necessary notice once everything has been made final,” Roque said.
The Greater Manila Area, also referred to as NCR Plus, covering Metro Manila, Cavite, Rizal, Bulacan and Rizal, continues to be under the strictest form of lockdown after the ECQ — initially set to end by April 4 — was extended for at least one more week amid the continuous surge in virus infections.
ECQ reduces businesses that can operate at full capacity, limits the capacity of public transport which restricts mobility, and sets curfews to keep people at home.
Malacañang had said the government was eyeing to place the NCR Plus under the more lenient MECQ once the current status lapses on Sunday, April 11.
2nd highest Covid case count
Of the 853,209 total cases in the country, 190,245 or 22.3 percent are active.
The 12,674 new cases in a single day is now the second highest behind the 15,280
reported on April 2.
The positivity rate continues to be high, with 20.7 percent or 8,460 of the 40,868 samples tested yielding positive results.
Of the total number of active infections, 99.1 percent are mild, asymptomatic or moderate, while 0.9 percent, or 1,712 cases, are severe or critical.
There are 648,220 survivors, including 593 new recoveries while 225 others have died, pushing the fatality count to 14,744.
Intensive care unit bed capacity in Metro Manila is critical at 86 percent while those in isolation and wards are at 69 percent and 58 percent, respectively.
OCTA, DILG proposal
Earlier on Saturday, the OCTA Research Group and the Department of the Interior and Local Government (DILG) proposed extending the ECQ.
The DILG said that after “almost two weeks,” the areas under ECQ still have to feel its impact, said Officer in Charge Bernardo Florece Jr. in an interview on ABS-CBN’s “TeleRadyo.”
The academe-based group proposed as a second option a two-week MECQ in the NCR Plus bubble.
An extension, OCTA said, would also allow the region to decongest hospitals and relieve the pressure on health care workers, as a premature reopening will “pose a significant risk” and “could accelerate a case surge.”
In its April 10 report, the group said that the country’s reproduction number or R0 (pronounced “R-naught”) has been at 1.27 during the week of April 3 to 9, while the R0 in the NCR has decreased to 1.23, much lower than the 1.88 during the week before the ECQ.
Despite the region averaging 4,787 new cases of Covid-19 per day over the past week, the average one-week growth rate has decreased to -9 percent, although the positivity rate continues to be high at 25 percent, meaning 1 in 4 tests are positive.
Some local government units in the NCR have reported negative growth rates, from as low as -1 percent in Caloocan to as high as -50 percent in Marikina.
While OCTA said this was an “encouraging sign,” it was too early to say if there was a downward trend, especially due to the lower number of tests that were conducted during the Holy Week.
OCTA added that Covid cases in the region would continue to remain from 4,000 to 6,000 cases per day if the reproduction number continues to be above 1.
“This means that hospitals in the NCR Plus will remain at high utilization in the coming weeks even with a downward trend expected soon, and many Covid-19 patients may not be able to obtain access to medical care,” OCTA said.
OCTA also recommended government expansion of testing, tracing and isolation efforts in the NCR Plus and partnership with the private sector to accelerate vaccination in the bubble.
Vice President Maria Leonor “Leni” Robredo is giving away Covid-19 care kits to patients under home isolation.
In her Facebook post on Saturday, Robredo said one of their realizations since her office launched the Bayanihan E-Konsulta on April 7 was that some patients have no access even to the most basic medical equipment.
“Most of our patients who are Covid positive and doing home isolation are relieved that they get to talk to doctors; but when doctors start asking them to monitor their symptoms and report them, they do not have thermometers and [oximeters] to check their temperature and oxygen levels,” Robredo said.
She said this prompted her office to send out Covid-19 kits, complete with medicines and other medical supplies, monitoring sheets and instructions as per recommendation of health professionals.
Bayanihan E-Konsulta, a teleconsultation platform primarily for outpatient cases, aims to help decongest hospitals within the NCR Plus. It also accommodates non-Covid-19 patients who are seeking medical assistance, according to Robredo.
WITH REPORTS FROM CURRIE CATOR AND CHRISTIAN MAGHANOY