Extend enhanced quarantine in Cebu City to prevent resurgence of cases: UP researchers

As Metro Cebu prepares to reopen for business by June 1, a group of researchers based at the University of the Philippines recommended that the enhanced quarantine (ECQ) in Cebu City be extended to prevent a resurgence of cases.

The COVID-19 Inter-Agency Task Force (IATF) is expected to decide this week whether to extend the ECQ in Cebu City.

“For NCR and Cebu City, the number of new COVID-19 cases is still very high,” the researchers said in their “Post-ECQ report.” The researchers recommend that the government “continue significant restrictions in NCR and Cebu City” and expand this to other high-risk areas.

The gains that we achieved through our collective sacrifice should not be squandered by prematurely lifting or not strictly enforcing restrictions,

COVID-19 FORECASTS IN THE PHILIPPINES: Post-ECQ Report by University of the Philippines researchers

In Cebu, the cities of Mandaue and Cebu are under a modified enhanced community quarantine (MECQ) while Lapu-Lapu City and the rest of the provinces are now under general community quarantine (GCQ). Business leaders, however, have announced that businesses will reopen on June 1 and have started preparations for it.

The UP study is based on COVID-19 statistics throughout the country. As of May 24, the Department of Health (DOH) recorded 13,777 total cases with 9,737 considered active. Cebu City reported 1,869 cases for that day.

DOH said 90.6% of patients exhibit only mild symptoms.

FRONTLINERS ONLY.  Authorities monitor those entering East Avenue from the Elliptical Road to BIR road in Quezon City, where there are several major hospitals. Only doctors, medical personnel, and patients are given the priority to access the area. (PNA photo by Robert Oswald P. Alfiler)
FRONTLINERS ONLY. Authorities monitor those entering East Avenue from the Elliptical Road to BIR road in Quezon City, where there are several major hospitals. Only doctors, medical personnel, and patients are given the priority to access the area. (PNA photo by Robert Oswald P. Alfiler)

Drop in cases

Going over the numbers, the UP researchers said the enhanced community quarantine (ECQ) slowed the transmission of the coronavirus in the Philippines. The decrease in cases, they went further, may be “solely attributed to the ECQ.”

But the numbers indicate that “the risk level of the pandemic is still high. In short, the transmission of the virus in the country is not yet controlled.”

The researchers noted in their report that “mobility and proximity to other people are drivers of the COVID-19 pandemic.”

They said “we cannot afford to be complacent, even in areas where the pandemic appears to be contained, because it takes just one spreader to start a second wave.”

Resurgence

The researchers also said that the decision to ease mobility restrictions means “the likelihood of a resurgence seems to be not a question of if but where and how bad.”

They said “government must ensure that health systems are capable of detecting, testing, isolating, and treating every case of COVID-19 as well as tracing every contact.”

They said regulations on physical distancing and health safeguards should be strictly enforced.

Cultivating a culture of open data sharing will go a long way to improving everyone’s effectiveness in contributing to the fight to stem the pandemic.

COVID-19 FORECASTS IN THE PHILIPPINES: Post-ECQ Report by University of the Philippines researchers

“The gains that we achieved through our collective sacrifice should not be squandered by prematurely lifting or not strictly enforcing restrictions,” they warned.

The researchers also stressed the need for a scientific study on people’s mobility in areas under quarantine. They also pointed out the importance of increased and randomized testing to get a better picture of the prevalence of infection in the country.

The researchers also segregated various areas into different risk levels based on cases per day based on their population. Cebu Province was designated as among Low Risk areas along with such places as Iloilo, Antique, Albay, Camarines Sur, among others.

Changes in mobility with ECQ, GCQ

(Below is a table of mobility data gathered by Google. The researchers from UP suggested a scientific study on people’s mobility in areas placed under quarantine.)

Medium risk, high risk

Lapu-Lapu City and Mandaue City were designated Medium Risk along with Samar, Laguna, and Oriental Mindoro.

Cebu City was designated as High Risk along with Batangas, NCR, Davao City, and Zamboanga City.

The UP researchers also emphasized the need for aggressive contact tracing and making it a “centerpiece strategy.” They proposed mobilizing “a people’s army of contact tracers” to make sure cases are logged.

They proposed starting with the police by reassigning them from manning checkpoints to contact tracing, saying they have the basic investigative skills for it. They also suggest tapping medical students.

INSPECTION. A police officer inspects IDs and other documents presented by motorcycle riders entering Antipolo City, Rizal. Checkpoints remain despite easing of some restrictions under the general community quarantine which took effect in the province on May 16. (PNA photo by Joey O. Razon)
INSPECTION. A police officer inspects IDs and other documents presented by motorcycle riders entering Antipolo City, Rizal. Checkpoints remain despite easing of some restrictions under the general community quarantine which took effect in the province on May 16. (PNA photo by Joey O. Razon)

Open data sharing

But the data should be anonymized and shared with other stakeholders.

“Cultivating a culture of open data sharing will go a long way to improving everyone’s effectiveness in contributing to the fight to stem the pandemic,” they said.

They also raised the need for a mechanism to place a local government unit back to ECQ based on certain triggers.

“We need to provide criteria or a set of triggers not only for de-escalation but also to escalate restrictions that are clearly explained to the public,” they said.

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