MANILA, Philippines — Researchers called on the national and local governments to intensify their efforts in curbing the spread of COVID-19 as cases rise in the country following the holiday season.
In its latest report released Tuesday, the OCTA Research Team said the reproduction number—or the number of people who may be infected by a confirmed case—in Metro Manila has increased to 1.17. Ideally, the reproductive number should be below one.
The reproduction number remained below one throughout the holiday season as testing was reduced by more than 40%.
Following the resumption of testing operations in January, the number of cases in the capital region, which remains the epicenter of the nation’s outbreak, increased to more than 400 from 295.
“There is a clear upward trend now… and if this upward trend continues, the local governments will need to implement measures to reverse this direction before the pandemic gets out of hand,” the OCTA Research Team said.
The positivity rate in Metro Manila remained at 4%, lower than the benchmark of 5% set by the World Health Organization. Positivity rate refers to the percentage of people who have tested positive from all those who underwent testing.
The researchers warned about the possible “significant surge” in infections in Metro Manila following the increase in mobility and social gatherings during the holidays, and the Feast of Black Nazarene.
They called on the government to increase the capacity of the healthcare system, beef up testing, boost contact tracing efforts, build more isolation facilities and improve capabilities of LGUs to implement community health programs and surveillance.
The Philippines reported 2,052 additional cases, the highest single-day increase since before Christmas. But the Department of Health said the rise in cases in the past few days should be interpreted cautiously.
“We’re trying to get the trends right now and for the coming weeks for us to conclude if there’s really a surge,” Health Undersecretary Maria Rosario Vergeire said in an interview on CNN Philippines Tuesday.
The OCTA Research Team identified Marikina City as an area of concern in Metro Manila after it recorded a 127% increase in cases. The city also had the highest positivity rate in the region at 11%.
The researchers also named Davao Del Sur (including Davao City), Isabela, Quezon, Misamis Oriental, Pangasinan, Agusan Del Sur and Negros Oriental as provinces of concern. These are the provinces that have seen an increase in cases of at least 10% and have positivity rates greater than 10%
“We urge the local government units concerned to further intensity their efforts at testing, tracing and isolation to reverse the increase in transmission in their communities,” they said.
They also urged the national and local governments to monitor and strictly enforce adherence to minimum health standards such as physical distancing, wearing of face masks and face shields and proper hygiene.
Aside from the anticipated post-holiday surge in COVID-19 cases, authorities are also monitoring the threats of new COVID-19 variants, including the one that is believed to be more contagious.
Analysis of the Philippine Genome Center showed that the variant first seen in the United Kingdom has not yet been detected in the Philippines. The D614G, the variant first detected in June last year, was the most common form of the virus observed in local samples.
The DOH said it is keeping an eye on the variants detected in the United Kingdom, South Africa and in nearby Malaysia.
“The national government must further ensure that effective and stricter border controls are in place to mitigate COVID-19 transmissions in our airports and ports as well as within and between provinces to prevent further transmissions, including the possible entry of the more infectious COVID-19 variant from the UK,” the OCTA Research Team said.