ECQ in MManila, 4 provinces extended

THE government extended the enhanced community quarantine (ECQ) in the National Capital Region (NCR) or Metro Manila and four nearby provinces for another week, as the country recorded 12,576 new cases of the coronavirus disease 2019 (Covid-19) on Saturday.

Palace spokesman Harry Roque Jr., also the spokesman for the Inter-Agency Task Force for the Management of Emerging Infectious Diseases (IATF-EID), said President Rodrigo Duterte has approved the extension of the ECQ.

In a briefing aired live on state-run PTV-4, Roque said the IATF, in a meeting, said aside from the NCR, the one-week ECQ extension would also be in effect in Laguna, Bulacan, Cavite and Rizal from April 5 to April 11.

Roque said the enforcement of the Prevent, Detect, Isolate, Treat and Reintegrate (PDITR) Strategy would be intensified to contain the rapid spread of the virus.

“Health care utilization, case numbers and the PDITR gatekeeping indicators would serve as the parameters to be assessed for the succeeding weeks risk classification,” said Roque.

Roque said the government would be adding 110 beds for moderate to severe cases in hospitals “on top of the other additional beds next month which will be not less than 160.”

Meanwhile, Roque said the Departments of the Interior and Local Government, Labor and Employment and Trade and Industry,  and the Task Group on Management of Returning Overseas Filipinos have been directed to provide data from concerned local government units (LGUs), workplaces and establishments and ROFs respectively.

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.

Previously, the five areas, known collectively as the Greater Manila Area or NCR Plus were first placed under ECQ beginning March 29 until April 4.

Saturday’s figure is the second highest number of cases in a single day after Friday’s 15,310, pushing the total number of infections to 784,043, from which 165,716 are active, the Department of Health (DoH) said.

The positivity rate continues to increase, with the latest at 24.2 percent or 8,180 out of 33,800 samples tested yielding positive results.

Of the active cases, 99 percent are mild, moderate or asymptomatic while one percent, or 1,657 cases are severe and critical.

There are 604,905 recoveries, including 599 new survivors while the death toll is at 13,423, including 103 new fatalities.

The occupancy rate in hospitals remains at high risk, with 80 percent,72 percent and 59 percent of intensive care units, isolation and ward beds respectively being used in the NCR alone.

Financial assistance

With the ECQ still in place for the second straight week, the P22.9 billion financial assistance to LGUs in the affected areas can be downloaded on Monday, Finance Secretary Carlos Dominguez 3rd said.

“The quick release was made possible only because [Budget department] Secretary Wendell Avisado signed the SARO (special allotment release) and NCA (notice of cash allocation) last Tuesday morning (March 29) and that the DoF (Department of Finance) and Bureau of  the Treasury had prepared funds in advance of this eventuality,” he added.

The Department of Budget and Management (DBM) said the P22.9 billion aims to assist 80 percent of the population in the NCR, Cavite, Laguna, Rizal and Bulacan who belong to low-income households.

Broken down, P11.17 billion will be given to the NCR, P2.96 billion to Bulacan, P3.4 billion to Cavite and P2.17 billion to Laguna.

About 22.915 beneficiaries are entitled to receive P1,000 per person but not to exceed
P4,000 per family either in cash or in kind based on the most efficient and effective mechanism to be identified by their respective LGUs.

“The Department of Social Welfare and Development (DSWD) shall assist the LGUs in the implementation of this financial assistance to the targeted beneficiaries,” it added.

According to the budget department, beneficiaries of earlier social amelioration programs of the DSWD shall be prioritized.

The complete list of beneficiaries shall be posted in conspicuous places in the LGUs and submitted to the DBM, the Commission on Audit and other agencies as required under existing laws, rules and regulations.

Funds which will remain unutilized as of Dec. 31, 2021, shall be reverted to the National Treasury by the LGUs.

‘Make it worth the pain’

Albay Second District Rep. Jose Ma. Clemente “Joey” Salceda  told The Manila Times on Saturday that extensions would only work with “expanded health care capacity and testing.”

“The very premise of extensions is that they are time bought to prepare a stronger health care response,” Salceda said.

Among Salceda’s suggestions were to make telemedicine facilities widely accessible, prepare ready-to-use supplies for home care services, and equip isolation centers with treatment facilities for mild to moderate Covid-19 cases.

He said his data team is monitoring the utilization rate of government-run isolation centers, which is currently “just above 10 percent.”

“If there will be no changes in our capacity, we will merely be deferring new surges of infection for later,” Salceda said. “We need to consider fully equipping our isolation centers, so that they can also serve non-severe cases.”

“Lockdown extensions without health care expansion will gradually asphyxiate our economy, so we should make the extension worth the pain,” Salceda stressed.

The OCTA Research group said in a press briefing on Saturday that it would take “weeks or months” before the impact of the ECQ could be felt and warned that hospital capacity would continue to increase in the next two weeks.

“Because the confinement period is 27 days, we have to get many of the patients during the first month of the surge through our hospital system… We are not yet past the surge,” Fr. Nicanor Austriaco of OCTA said.

Austriaco added that hospitals will keep increasing cases until the middle of April and will remain at 70 percent capacity for the rest of the month if the reproduction number does not go lower than 1.

The group added that a slight decline in the country’s reproduction number is not enough to translate to a decrease in hospital capacity.

The group said that the reproduction number in the NCR declined slightly to 1.65, much lower than the 1.96 reported by the group on March 25.

It is expected that with the ECQ, the reproduction number will decrease to 1.33 from April 3 to 19 and to 1.09 by April 10 to 16.

Quezon City, Manila, Caloocan, Makati, Parañaque and Valenzuela are showing signs of a slowing growth rate while Pasay and Malabon have shown negative growth rates although hospital occupancy rate remained high.

DoH assurance

The DoH assured that its 17 hospitals across Metro Manila will remain operational but that elective surgeries and out-patient department operations were suspended.

The Philippine Orthopedic Center has closed its outpatient department and is now offering telemedicine services for outpatient orthopedic services.

The government’s designated treatment czar, Health Undersecretary Leopoldo Vega, and the One Hospital Command Center, have been augmenting hospital resources by downloading funds to hospitals for hiring of additional personnel, medicines and referral of patients.

The DoH, in partnership with the World Health Organization and the United Nations Children’s Fund are also fast-tracking the delivery and set up of modular tents in eight hospitals in Metro Manila — Jose R. Reyes Memorial Medical Center – Quezon Institute, Jose N. Rodriguez Memorial Hospital, Amang Rodriguez Memorial Medical Center, Tondo Medical Center, National Center for Mental Health, Lung Center of the Philippines, National Kidney and Transplant Institute, and San Lazaro Hospital.

It is also intensifying efforts to augment health care workers (HCWs) in the region, with 42 volunteers HCWs scheduled to be deployed in select hospitals in Metro Manila, while the Armed Forces and Police Medical Reserve forces have been tapped to man reactivated temporary treatment and monitoring facilities.