To prevent India-like surge, PH must tighten protocols in enclosed spaces - health experts

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Metro Manila (CNN Philippines, May 3) — To prevent a surge that has been worsening the COVID-19 crisis in India, the Philippines must take steps to tighten its health protocols especially in enclosed spaces, a medical expert said Monday.

Dr. Rontgene Solante, head of the adult infectious diseases unit at San Lazaro hospital, told CNN Philippines' The Source that the government must implement stricter health protocols, especially in areas that are at higher risk of COVID-19 transmissions.

"We need to fully implement health protocols, especially the ventilation of enclosed areas, if we are going to open malls and other establishments," Solante recommended.

He said looking at engineering controls of enclosed places must go hand in hand with the implementation of the usual health protocols such as social distancing, active contact tracing, quarantine, and proactive treatment efforts.

For her part, Dr. Anna Ong-Lim said the government should learn how to relax restrictions safely based on India's experience when it opened its economy as COVID-19 cases went down.

“They had really big mass gatherings like sports events and political rallies. But they could have prepared well. The lesson for us to learn is we should not be complacent and continue to be watchful when we make decisions on how do we open up when the quarantine is lifted,” Ong-Lim told CNN Philippines’ News Night.

She said people should properly use face masks in preventing COVID-19 transmissions.

“Double masking helps since it has many lawyers, but its comfort level to the people may be compromised. It may result in improper usage of face masks,” she said.

Metro Manila and the nearby provinces of Bulacan, Cavite, Laguna and Rizal are currently under a more "flexible" modified enhanced community quarantine until May 14, allowing more services such as dine-ins and personal care to operate at a limited capacity.

"This is our life now. We need to accept that this is how we should behave and be disciplined in following health protocols, in enclosed spaces, even in public places," Solante added.

OCTA Research fellow Ranjit Rye expressed a similar sentiment.

"Our position is people who go to indoor spaces and take their masks off are taking a risk at this point. We still have more than 3,000 daily average cases [in Metro Manila]," Rye also told The Source.

"While the trend is going down, it is quite reversible, it could change very quickly if people become complacent and overconfident. It’s really a risk to go out right now and take your mask off," he added.

Health Undersecretary and Spokesperson Rosario Vergeire said in a separate briefing that some other things have to be considered, especially protocols on the ventilation of establishments that have resumed operations.

She said factors that should be taken into consideration to prevent virus transmission include the size of the enclosed space, whether or not it has proper ventillation and the number of people that can be accomodated.

Health Secretary Francisco Duque III warned last week that there is a big possibility for the Philippines to face a COVID-19 surge similar to India, if it fails to follow minimum public health standards and to intensify its pandemic response.

India is experiencing the world's worst outbreak after cases rapidly accelerated in early March — around the time when the "double mutant" variant of COVID-19 was discovered in the country.

On Sunday, the Philippines logged 8,346 new COVID-19 infections, bringing the nationwide tally to 1,054,983. The death toll has reached 17,431 while the number of survivors has increased to 966,080.

CNN reported on Monday that India is edging closer to 20 million COVID-19 cases, with nearly 370,000 new ones — the 12th straight day that more than 300,000 infections were confirmed. At least 218,959 people have died from Covid-19 in the South Asian country.

The Philippines has banned the entry of travelers from India as well as those with recent travel history to the South Asian country from April 29 to May 14.