OCTA: NCR Plus ready for GCQ by mid-May

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Metro Manila (CNN Philippines, May 10) — Independent research group OCTA is in favor of relaxing community quarantine restrictions in Metro Manila and nearby provinces by May 15 as new COVID-19 cases continue to see a downtrend.

It said on Monday that the average number of daily COVID-19 cases in the capital region Metro Manila is expected to dip between 1,700 to 1,800 by May 14 — when the modified enhanced community classification in NCR Plus is scheduled to end.

"With the current development and downward trend, if this continues until the end of this week, definitely it can be considered to downgrade to GCQ 'yung quarantine classification," said OCTA fellow Dr. Guido David.

A number of mayors in Metro Manila have said they are in favor of easing to GCQ by mid-May.

The OCTA fellow said continuing the bubble set-up over Metro Manila, Rizal, Bulacan, Cavite, and Laguna should be considered even under a downgraded quarantine classification, as there are some cities and provinces that have unstable COVID-19 trends. He suggested the gradual easing of restrictions as lifting the lockdown could lead to another surge.

"One feature that I would like to retain is we can still have the bubble. It could be a GCQ bubble because cases are still significant inside the bubble and as you mentioned, may ibang LGUs pa [There are still some LGUs] with an unstable trend," he added.

OCTA Research also noted hospital bed and intensive care unit occupancy rates in NCR Plus of 50% and 67%, respectively, compared to the 56% and 71% logged the week before.

DOH Technical Advisory Group Member Dr. Edsel Salvaña said the healthcare system should be able to cope in case a surge follows after the easing of restrictions.

"If you open up, you're going to see more cases," he told CNN Philippines on Monday. "We have to keep cases manageable and at the same time we have to have the healthcare capacity to take care of patients in case there is another surge."

To be able to shift to GCQ, the DOH said the healthcare utilization rate should be below 50% and the average daily attack rate and two-week growth rate should be steadily decreasing. Health Undersecretary Maria Rosario Vergeire said they are also reviewing the daily attack rate, or the number of people getting COVID-19 per 100,000 population, two-week growth rate of infections, and the gate keeping indicators of every local government. This includes their contact tracing, early isolation and quarantine and testing capabilities.

OCTA stressed protocols for incoming travelers should remain strict to prevent the entry of the B.1.617 variant first discovered in India. Aside from this, David said ventilation in indoor spaces should be improved following the published study showing the virus is airborne.

Three cities named areas of concern

OCTA has also flagged Cagayan de Oro in Misamis Oriental, Puerto Princesa in Palawan, and Bacolod in Negros Occidental as "areas of concern" due to the spike in COVID-19 cases in their vicinities.

Data analyzed by the independent research group showed that for the past week, Puerto Princesa logged a 78% increase in coronavirus infections, CDO listed a 75% spike, while Bacolod recorded a 19% increase in new cases.

Cagayan de Oro Mayor Oscar Moreno on Monday said that from 10 new daily cases two months ago, the new infections in their city has been steadily rising -- citing a recurring trend related to the situation in Metro Manila.

"We have observed a trend: Whenever Metro Manila experiences a surge, it seems like after two months, other smaller cities are likewise affected. We saw that last year and it's coming back again," he told CNN Philippines.

Cagayan de Oro now has 5,376 COVID-19 cases.

Despite this, the city is still not restricting the entry of travelers.

Moreno said that although there is an ongoing spike, the COVID-19 situation remains manageable in Cagayan de Oro. The mayor also said he does not recommend the imposition of stricter community quarantine classification in their area, which is currently under modified GCQ.

"The situation is under control although I can understand the concerns of the people... We have a good system of contact tracing, profiling, extracting those identified as high-risk close contact, and those who have tested positive already. We have city isolation units, and we have temporary treatment facilities and our health system is okay," he said.

CNN Philippines correspondent Xianne Arcangel contributed to this report.