With Davaoeños looking forward to the scheduled lifting of the enhanced community quarantine (ECQ) at 11:59 p.m. on May 15, it might be a good idea to — in the words of Mayor Sara Duterte — manage our expectations.
Researchers from the University of the Philippines (UP) are recommending that the national government consider extending the ECQ beyond May 15, 2020 in Davao City as well as in the National Capital Region (NCR), Batangas, Cebu, and Zamboanga del Sur.
This is because, as the UP research team has found, lifting the ECQ prematurely will result in “another wave or a surge in transmissions.”
“Based on our data, if the ECQ is lifted prematurely, we will be faced with another wave or a surge in transmissions that is certain to squander our gains forcing us to make further costly interventions and increasing the total economic cost and the number of lives lost,” the researchers said.
The recommendation is included in Forecast Report No. 6 (COVID-19 FORECASTS IN THE PHILIPPINES: Sub-National Models for NCR and other Selected Areas) issued on May 8, 2020 by Guido David, Ph.D.; Ranjit Singh Rye, MPA; and Ma Patricia Agbulos, MBM who, aside from being professors at UP, are also all from polling, research, and consulting firm OCTAResearch.
Among others, the study has found that while the ECQ has helped control the spread of COVID-19, the number of cases “appears to be increasing at a steady rate.”
The researchers said the cumulative cases in the Philippines since March 8 “suggests that the curve has not flattened for the entire country.”
Managing the pandemic’s spread
First implemented on April 4, 2020, the ECQ in Davao City had been originally set to end at midnight on April 26 as the mayor said the team of doctors she was consulting had given the go signal.
The lockdown, however, was instead extended to May 15 upon the directive of the national government.
In her regular interview with Davao City Disaster Radio on Friday, the mayor said the ECQ has helped slow the transmission of the virus in the city.
“What we did with the ECQ is that we lowered the transmission. The fewer the people going out, the fewer the cases of COVID-19,” she said.
“As you can see, we do not have a big number of people going inside the hospital due to COVID-19. This is because we limit the people from going out. The virus can’t reach them,” she added.
But according to the UP researchers, there is still a need to sustain the gains of the ECQ “until such time that it (government) has scaled up and rolled out its programs and its initiatives for mass testing, contact tracing, and isolation of infective individuals.”
“We wish to emphasize that we are faced with a choice not between the economy and public health (lives vs livelihood), but between a less or more costly disruption to the lives of ordinary Filipinos,” they said.
Using data from the Department of Health (DOH), the researchers classified areas under ECQ in four grades based on the number of new cases over the previous seven days.
- Grade A includes those with no new cases over the past seven days.
- Grade B includes those with a low number of new cases, i.e. less than one new case per day per million of population.
- Grade C includes provinces and cities are close to flattening the curve, but may still need time to ensure this (due to delays in some cases being reported.
- Grade D are cities and provinces where the calculated R is still greater than 1 (“R” is the estimated value of reproduction, which ideally should be less than 1.)
The researchers said Grade D includes Davao City, the entire NCR, Cebu City, and the provinces of Cebu, Batangas, and Zamboanga del Sur where “continued implementation of the ECQ is needed in order to manage the spread of the pandemic.”
Testing, tracing, isolation
The researchers said the ECQ is working and has been critical in reducing transmission and deaths due to COVID-19 in the Philippines.
“We need to sustain the efficient and effective implementation of quarantines all over the country despite the fact that they are costly and unsustainable initiatives in the short run,” they said.
The researchers said because of this, the national government needs to shorten the length of time of the quarantines to reduce the negative economic, governance, and social impact.
This, they said, will require government to augment quarantines with massive testing, effective tracing, and supportive isolation programs.
They said the government also needs to sustain “unprecedented levels of collaboration and cooperation between civil society and the private sector.”
“To do so, the government should ensure that quarantines implemented all over the country are humane and ethical, protective of civil rights and due process, and provide mechanisms that respect health and data privacy,” they said.