OCTA pushes for 'circuit breaking' lockdown in Metro Manila amid ongoing COVID-19 surge

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Metro Manila (CNN Philippines, July 28) — COVID-19 research watchdog OCTA has urged the national government to implement a hard lockdown in Metro Manila before coronavirus cases spike further.

OCTA Research fellow Dr. Guido David on Wednesday said the surge in the capital region is only in its early stages and can still be managed.

Comparing it to the surges in February 2021 and July 2020, Guido said lockdowns should be enforced immediately to turn the tide.

He said the government enforced a lockdown last year when cases were just hovering around 2,000 so fixing it only took two weeks of modified enhanced community quarantine.

On the other hand, the lockdown earlier this year took two months because the government waited for cases to soar to 4,000.

The group said the best strategy is a "go early, go hard" lockdown.

"If we wait too long, next week, it may not be the same case anymore," David told CNN Philippines

"A one-week timeout now compared to maybe to a 3-4 weeks timeout later, that's a big difference in terms of the impact on the economy and on livelihood," he explained.

OCTA Professor Ranjit Rye earlier said, "Kung maaga tayong mag-i-enforce ng circuit breaking restrictions, sa tingin namin sa OCTA mas mainam iyon. Maaga at maingat."

[Translation: OCTA believes it will be better if we enforce circuit breaking restrictions early on. Early and cautious.]

OCTA said the reproduction rate in the National Capital Region is at 1.33 and it is not decreasing.

The region is recording an average of 1,000 COVID-19 infections daily, but OCTA predicts it can double in two weeks.

David added that Metro Manila will find it hard to manage an exponential increase in cases since it's a densely populated region.

Health Undersecretary Maria Rosario Vergeire said in a television interview on Wednesday that the healthcare capacity in NCR remains at "moderate risk."

"That's of course a concern because if we reached 2,000 cases, we will be reaching close to the surge capacity of the region," David said.

"That means at that point, we'll start becoming more exponential because it will exceed the surge capacity," the researcher also said.

OCTA did not give details on the level of lockdown needed in the region.

RELATED: DOH says no definitive evidence of COVID-19 surge in Metro Manila

More data needed?

As OCTA calls for urgency, an infectious disease expert believes it is still important to further review data to ensure enforcing a hard lockdown now would be the best course of action.

Dr. Anna Ong-Lim, who's also a member of the DOH's Technical Advisory Group, said while the usual recommendation for any outbreak is to decrease mobility by imposing tighter restrictions, it is "critical" to first determine at what point such intervention will have the most impact.

"What if we decide too early and then maybe one or two weeks from now the numbers are still increasing? Do we extend?" she told CNN Philippines' News Night. "So, we want to determine what point is the best."

She also noted it is "not easy" to impose a lockdown, considering its implications, such as on the economy.

NCR is under general community quarantine with “heightened restrictions” until July 31. This restriction is similar to a relaxed GCQ but with fewer customers in establishments.

Metro Manila mayors held an emergency meeting on Wednesday to discuss the COVID-19 situation in the region and the local government units' response on the spread of the more contagious Delta Variant.

The council, composed of all 17 mayors, said it is ready to implement the strictest enhanced community quarantine (ECQ) again.

RELATED: Business groups now want 2-week lockdown amid Delta variant threat

But Navotas City Mayor Toby Tiangco told CNN Philippines' The Final Word that during the meeting, the Department of Health said reverting to the strictest quarantine classification is not yet needed. But in case the need arises, he said they also mentioned their needs: cash aid and COVID-19 vaccines.

Tiangco added that it would be better for local governments to ramp up their vaccination drives amid a hard lockdown to be able to immunize more of their constituents.

"Kung iyan (vaccines) talaga ang solusyon at kung sakaling mapilitang i-recommend ang ECQ, kailangan namin iyong bakuna para hindi naman masayang...bakunahan na natin lahat ng babakunahan para at least after that ECQ...eh nabakunahan iyong ating mga kababayan," the mayor said.

[Translation: If vaccines are really the solution and we will be forced to recommend an ECQ, we need the vaccines so this will not be wasted. Vaccinate all those needed to be vaccinated so that at least after the ECQ our citizens are already immunized.]

President Rodrigo Duterte, during his final State of the Nation Address on Monday, said the government can no longer afford to impose a wide lockdown.

However, he said it may be possible if the Delta variant continues to spread across the country.