Another week of ECQ
With fresh COVID cases still rising steadily, breaking new record highs almost with each passing day, the government has decided to extend by another week the enhanced community quarantine in the National Capital Region and the provinces of Bulacan, Cavite, Laguna and Rizal or NCR-Plus.
The move was expected; the OCTA Research Group and epidemiologists had said it would take at least two weeks for the impact of ECQ, the strictest quarantine status, to be reflected in a slowdown in infections.
OCTA fellows, who had pushed for the ECQ in mid-March amid a spike in infections, warned that the numbers would likely get worse before they get better. The worst projections of OCTA are coming to pass, overwhelming private hospitals. Without ECQ, daily cases could surge to 18,000 to 20,000 by mid-April, OCTA had warned.
Whether the ECQ would be enough to contain the surge remains to be seen. Several local government executives have lamented that the transmission is unusually rapid and widespread, leading to speculation that more infectious variants are fueling the surge. With the Philippine Genome Center able to sequence only 750 specimens every week, the government should be erring on the side of caution and responding as if the variants are the principal culprits.
The current ECQ is unlike the original last year, with allowances given to keep certain economic sectors going. At the current infection rate and with vaccines scarce, however, even these concessions to the economy may have to be reviewed. Contact tracing has deteriorated, as described by contact tracing czar Benjamin Magalong who has been infected, and testing is still beyond the reach of many.
If the ECQ fails to slow down infections, OCTA has warned that by June 30, some 8.5 million people would have been infected in the NCR, epicenter of the pandemic. Herd immunity would then have been achieved – but at what cost to health and life? Not everyone will survive or have only mild or asymptomatic afflictions. Millions won’t be able to work and the economy will be in even worse shape for a long time. Even as the NCR-Plus enters another week of ECQ, it should review the accompanying protocols and measures to curb transmission.