'We are in a surge': OCTA calls for lockdowns as Metro Manila cases rise

Residents of Marikina City line up for their second dose of COVID-19 vaccine at mega vaccination site in Marikina Sports Center on July 8, 2021.
The STAR/Boy Santos

MANILA, Philippines — OCTA Research on Tuesday called for "circuit-breaking" lockdowns as it said a surge in COVID-19 infections has begun in Metro Manila where the highly transmissible Delta variant may be playing a factor. 

The call came as authorities detect more cases of the Delta with local transmission and as President Rodrigo Duterte warned Monday a return to the lockdowns of 2020 is possible. 

"Right now, it's official: we are in a surge here in the National Capital Region," OCTA fellow Ranjit Rye told a government briefing. "We can't disregard or not pay attention to this increase."

He said Metro Manila's reproduction rate is now at 1.33 from the 0.6 just last month. The figure refers to the number of persons a COVID-19 positive individual can infect. 

The Department of Health on Monday acknowledged that the capital region is seeing an increase in cases, but cautioned against using the term "surge" as it maintained this has not been observed yet.

Health officials over the weekend reported 55 new Delta infections, six of which had indicated address in the Metro Manila. By July 24, the total count of persons with the variant has stood at 119, along with four deaths and 12 active cases. 

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"We need to have anticipatory, preventive, [and] circuit-breaking lockdowns," Rye continued in mixed English and Filipino. "If we do this in the next two weeks, we will not only bring down cases and deaths but also save the economy."

The OCTA member said Metro Manila is now reporting nearly a thousand additional cases. Should that reach 2,000, Rye said hospitals may be overwhelmed as they were in past months. 

He added government should no longer wait for infections in Metro Manila to go up further before restricting movements. "If we lock down later with already 5,000 cases, we will be closed down for months," Rye said. 

"We don't want what happened in Indonesia, in India, and what is happening in Thailand, where cases exploded because their response was too little and too late," the expert continued.

Health Secretary Francisco Duque III in the same briefing agreed with OCTA on the need for stricter measures. He said the pandemic task force and government experts would meet today and study the panel's recommendation for lockdown.

Government is expected to announce this week the new quarantine classifications for August.

How other areas are faring

While OCTA noted that the capital region is experiencing an uptick in cases, it is areas in Cebu province that are considered the Philippines' virus "hotspot."

"Their reproduction rate is high at around 1.9," fellow Guido David said in Filipino of Cebu City, Mandaue and Lapu-Lapu. "In fact, in terms of average daily cases, Cebu City is the highest in the entire country."

Davao City, meanwhile, which consistently reported the highest new cases in recent weeks, is seeing a decrease in infections despite confirming a Delta variant case, per OCTA.

Experts said that Cagayan de Oro remains a hotspot, too. A "critical risk" area, it remains with high ICU utilization rate and reproduction number. 

OCTA said other areas considered hotspots are: Laoag City in Ilocos Norte, where a Delta cases was also confirmed, along with parts of Ilocos Sur, and Mariveles in Bataan.

Referencing Filipina weighlifter Hildilyn Diaz, who won the Philippines' first gold in the Olympics, Rye said the country should also "step up its game" in responding to the threat of the Delta variant.

"We need to work fast," he added, "work together, and urgently considered these bold moves."

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