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Quarantine helping flatten COVID-19 curve – expert

Sheila Crisostomo - The Philippine Star
Quarantine helping flatten COVID-19 curve â expert
Edsel Maurice Salvana, director of the UP-NIH’s Molecular Biology and Biotechnology office, said that with a little over 200 cases of COVID-19 daily “holding steady for the last few days, there is little doubt the ECQ has succeeded in slowing down the spread of COVID-19 in the Philippines.”
Edd Gumban

MANILA, Philippines — The enhanced community quarantine, in force since March 17, may have flattened the curve of coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) infection, according to an infectious disease expert from the University of the Philippines-National Institutes of Health (UP-NIH).

Edsel Maurice Salvana, director of the UP-NIH’s Molecular Biology and Biotechnology office, said that with a little over 200 cases of COVID-19 daily “holding steady for the last few days, there is little doubt the ECQ has succeeded in slowing down the spread of COVID-19 in the Philippines.”

“Even without ‘mass testing,’ the fact that we are measuring the severe/critical population on a daily basis gives us a good picture of the shape of the curve,” he posted on his Facebook page.

Salvana said based on data from the Department of Health (DOH), the number of cases had “gone from a three-day doubling time from March 28 to 31 (from 1k to 2k, the tail end of the number of cases prior to ECQ since incubation time is up to 14 days) to a current doubling time of 14 days (from 3k to 6k between April 4 to April 18).

“This is an objective international measure and is even more encouraging since it has done this in the face of increased testing,” he pointed out.

But he cautioned that while the quarantine has flattened the curve, “this can surge again anytime if we let our guard down.”

He underscored the need for continued quarantine and isolation of symptomatic mild patients either at home or in community isolation facilities.

Salvana added that while testing mild cases is important, “it is more important to keep these symptomatic patients isolated because we know testing is imperfect and will still miss up to 1/3 of symptomatic patients.”

He said the quarantine enabled healthcare facilities to prepare and for the government to increase testing capacity. It has also prevented an “overwhelming surge of patients to our hospitals – something that has occurred even in rich countries like the US and Italy.”

However, he maintained that quarantine is “not a sustainable intervention,” citing its heavy impact on the economy.

“We must realize that this time was bought at great cost and it is imperative we don’t let our guard down. This is the only chance we get to consolidate our gains because our economy will not be able to tolerate another prolonged lockdown,” he added.

While the potential for cases to surge is always there, this will not be seen within two weeks after quarantine is lifted. This is because the first two weeks will be made up of cases acquired during the lockdown as incubation period is up to 14 days.

“This may lull us into a false sense of security if it stays low until there has been real harm done. Therefore, if ECQ is going to be modified, it needs to be done slowly and allow for the data to catch up, so we know what is truly going on,” he added.

To prevent a surge, he said it is necessary for social distancing and universal use of mask to continue while schools should remain close and those who can work from home “should continue to work from home.”

“As always, our priority should be to take care of the most vulnerable sectors and make sure that there is enough food to feed them. This is a long-term commitment and it will be our new normal,” he said.

“If we are successful, we can keep cases low and prevent these from overwhelming our healthcare system while restarting our economy,” he added.   

For Albay Rep. Joey Salceda, chairman of the House ways and means committee, the worst is not over yet hence the need to extend the quarantine for another two weeks, or until mid-May.

“We’re simply not there yet, no matter how much we wish this pandemic to end. It would be almost willful neglect to say that the country can now reopen,” Salceda said.

“So far, we have undertaken around 46,000 tests, with possibly another 80,000 coming by April 30. Thus, with only 130,000 tests or 0.1 percent of population, we are most possibly missing many positive especially asymptomatic cases that are undetected and at large,” he said.

Salceda was the first and only government official who openly endorsed a total lockdown.

“As of April 16, out of 5,660 confirmed cases, only 3,238 were assessed, out of 7,496 possible close contacts. Doubling time for infections hovers at just above 12 days. Thus, lifting the ECQ amounts to carelessly exposing the entire population to infection, no matter what residual social distancing,” he said.

At the same time, the House official warned of a looming rice shortage or crisis as other rice-producing nations have also been adversely affected by the lockdown.

Salceda called on the Departments of Agriculture (DA) and Trade and Industry (DTI) to ensure an adequate supply of the staple or scarcity may be experienced this year.

“Historically, we’ve had challenges with rice price and supply in economic and social crises. The issues have always been about getting the national supply of rice into the communities that need the supply,” he said.  – With Delon Porcalla

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