By Daniel Llanto

In an updated study, University of the Philippines (UP) researchers said thousands more could die if the enhanced community quarantine (ECG) in Luzon were eased in the coming days.

The study, which formulated mathematical scenarios, was conducted by UP professors and research fellows Guido David, Ranjit Singh Rye, and Maria Patricia Agbulos. They warned that the gains from ECQ could be reversed if it were to be lifted prematurely.

At present, local governments of Metro Manila cities are mulling the possibility of graduating to a relaxed general community quarantine after May 15.  Based on consensus from Metro Manila mayors, President Duterte is expected to decide whether the ECQ in some areas would be lifted or extended.

“Data suggest that a premature relaxation of the ECQ in the NCR may result in an escalation of 24,000 cases and 1,700 deaths by June 15,” the researchers said.

According to the study, the over 50 days or 7 weeks of ECQ were very much effective in reducing the rate of transmission of COVID-19 and opting for such a shift without a flatten curve would be counter-productive.

“Ending the ECQ prematurely may disrupt the flattening of the curve. There are possible rebound effects and increase in transmissions. Since the curve is close to flattening, it is advisable to wait until the curve has flattened before the ECQ is lifted,” the study read.

“One possible scenario caused by lifting the ECQ prematurely shows a surge in deaths from 650 to 3,800 and in the number of Covid-19 cases from 10,000 to 80,000 by May 31,” the study added.

The study also pointed out gaps in current testing efforts, saying that “the higher number of cases for older patients and low number of cases for those below 25 years of age, indicate an unknown number of asymptomatic and mildly symptomatic cases.”

However, the Health department has attributed the continuing rise in cases to clerical backlog being cleared as the country improves its testing capabilities. On May 11, the department took on 184 new cases, bringing the total number of active cases to 8,151.  COVID-19 has claimed 719 lives in the Philippines.

“Asymptomatic cases, if not diagnosed, may still interact with the general population and potentially spread COVID-19. There is the danger that asymptomatic cases may act as super spreaders of Covid-19,” the study read.

“Mass randomized testing and contact tracing will help determine the actual number of cases, including asymptomatic and mildly symptomatic cases and will help control the spread of COVID-19 by identifying and tracking the silent spreaders of the disease.”

The study urged the national government to guarantee minimum health safeguards, including mass randomized testing capability, effective contact tracing and sufficient health facilities, equipment and isolation areas to deal with Covid-19 cases and other diseases in the area.

“Once we confirm that an individual is infected with the virus through mass testing, we need an efficient and effective contact tracing system to track those who could have been exposed to the infective individual. To this end, the national and local government should consider hiring and training more personnel to do contact tracing,” the study read.

As it stands, the Philippine National Police has been put in charge of handling all contact tracing efforts for probable and suspect cases.

The enforcement arm of the IATF-EID earlier said it foresees more people going outside their homes under ECQ.  Police Lt. Gen. Guillermo Eleazar, who heads the Joint Task Force Corona Virus Shield (JTF CV Shield), said a transition to general quarantine would mean heightened police visibility.

As of Friday, there were 131 confirmed patients of the new pathogen among the ranks of the national police.

“In any case, the ECQ has proven to be successful, especially for a nation that has been challenged in many areas, specifically the lack of available mass testing and hospital facilities. The ECQ needs to be continued in certain areas in order to win the war against Covid-19,” the study said.