High local cases, Delta threat prolong GCQ in NCR Plus

President Duterte approved on Thursday the extension of the general community quarantine (GCQ) in Metro Manila and nearby provinces from July 16 to July 31 as infections in some cities are not declining and concerns about the more contagious COVID-19 Delta variant are mounting.

A guest in his earlier press briefing, Health Undersecretary Alethea de Guzman, said Makati, San Juan, Muntinlupa, Mandaluyong, Manila, Malabon and Navotas continued to have a positive two-week growth rate in COVID-19 cases.

Makati and Muntinlupa were also at high-risk level in terms of intensive care unit usage while the other five cities were at moderate levels, De Guzman added.

Roque said other factors, such as the average daily attack rate and two-week growth rate as well as the local government units’ capacities to isolate suspected and confirmed cases within 24 hours and improved contact tracing ratio were also factors in the extension of GCQ in the NCR Plus (Metro Manila and the provinces of Bulacan, Cavite, Rizal, Quezon and Batangas).

In an announcement, Roque said GCQ status has also been extended until the end of July in Baguio City, Apayao, Santiago City, Isabela, Nueva Vizcaya, Quirino, Puerto Princesa City, Guimaras, Negros Occidental, Zamboanga Sibugay, Zamboanga City, Zamboanga del Norte, Davao Oriental, General Santos City, Sultan Kudarat, Sarangani, North Cotabato, South Cotabato, Cotabato City, Agusan del Norte, Surigao del Norte, Agusan del Sur, Dinagat Islands and Surigao del Sur.

Roque said Cagayan, Laguna, Negros Oriental, Zamboanga del Sur, Lucena City, Naga City and Davao City would be under GCQ with heightened restrictions from July 16 to July 31. Aklan, Antique, Capiz and Bacolod City would be under GCQ with heightened restrictions up to July 22.Bataan, Davao Occidental, Davao de Oro, Davao del Sur, Davao del Norte, Cagayan de Oro City and Butuan City would be under modified enhanced community quarantine (MECQ) from July 16 to July 31. Iloilo City and Iloilo province will be under MECQ but only until July 22.

Roque said all other areas in the country would be placed under modified general community quarantine for the remainder of the month.

Wider travel ban

The government is also studying whether to impose restrictions on travel to and from Malaysia and Thailand to prevent the entry of the Delta variant.

Health Secretary Francisco Duque III, speaking at the televised Laging Handa public briefing, mentioned Malaysia and Thailand as among the countries being evaluated by the Inter-Agency Task Force for the Management of Emerging Infectious Diseases for travel restrictions.

New COVID-19 cases in Malaysia reached a record high of 11,618 on July 14 and that the Delta variant was in almost every Malaysian state, according to De Guzman.

The government has already extended travel restrictions on seven countries with confirmed local transmission of the Delta variant, namely India, Pakistan, Nepal, Sri Lanka, Bangladesh, United Arab Emirates and Oman. Travel restrictions on an eighth country, Indonesia, took effect on Friday. De Guzman said the spike in cases in Indonesia had been steep, with 54,000 cases reported on July 14.

The official said the Department of Health (DOH) has adopted a “four-door strategy” to prevent the entry of COVID-19 variants. The first blocks the point of origin with travel restrictions. The second secures the point of entry through intensified screening, quarantine and testing. The third is the point of care, which pertains to hospitalization and the prevention-detection-isolation-testing-reintegration response in communities. The fourth, labeled the “epidemic surge” door, aims to stop spikes through strong health and critical capacity, timely management of cases and continuity of essential services.

Economic impact

Roque also disputed criticisms that travel restrictions imposed on Indonesia were too late, saying travelers who arrived from Indonesia in the past four months totaled only 724 and all underwent the required quarantine periods.

The Delta variant could cause more damage on the Philippines and other emerging markets because of their slow vaccination rollout, according to London-based think tank Capital Economics.

Capital Economics noted that the recent peak in COVID-19 infections due to the new strain was happening in emerging Asian markets, such as Indonesia, Malaysia and Thailand.

As developed markets like the United Kingdom ramped up mass vaccination, Capital Economics data showed reduced hospitalization as well as deaths due to COVID-19 in the United Kingdom.

“The UK’s experience so far suggests that vaccination rates will play a big role in determining the economic damage caused by the Delta variant. Few countries currently match the UK’s level of vaccine protection, but at current rates of rollout most advanced economies will get there in the next month or so,” Capital Economics group chief economist Neil Shearing said in a July 14 report.

New cases

Unfortunately, it would take time before poorer countries achieve herd immunity from vaccine protection.

Meantime, the DOH on Thursday said it recorded 5,221 new COVID-19 cases in the country, pushing the total to 1.49 million. It also reported that 4,147 patients had recovered, bringing the total survivors to 1.42 million. However, another 82 succumbed to the disease, raising the death toll to 26,314.

In its Thursday monitoring report, independent research group OCTA also sounded the alarm on the rising reproduction number of 1.36 in Cebu City and 1.56 in Lapu-Lapu City from July 1 to July 7. A reproduction number, which measures how fast the virus spreads, of 1 or higher indicates a sustained transmission of the virus.

—With reports from Ben O. de Vera and Patricia Denise M. Chiu

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