With the Philippines reaching new peaks in COVID-19 cases practically every other day, the government recently ordered a one-week extension to the 7-day lockdown of Metro Manila and four adjoining provinces, which ended on Easter Sunday, April 4.
Known as enhanced community quarantine (ECQ), Metro Manila along with the provinces of Bulacan, Cavite, Laguna, and Rizal will continue to enforce strict quarantine but also a 6pm to 5am curfew from April 5 to 11.
The University of the Philippines-based think tank OCTA Research was among the first to bat for the one-week extension, saying that original one week lockdown was not enough to arrest the spread of the coronavirus.
The second wave of the COVID-19 pandemic in the country began around the middle of last month, when the daily number of new cases began to rise dramatically from an average of between 1,500 and 2,000 to last week’s 10,000 to 12,000 level.
Over the weekend, OCTA Research fellow Ranjit Rye said the one week ECQ was insufficient.
“We are definitely not out of the woods, and we need an additional week and maybe more,” he said.
When the spike began, it was OCTA Research that predicted daily cases of COVID-19 would likely hit 10,000 to 12,000 by the end of March to the first week of April.
The Duterte administration had been balking at extending the quarantine, considered as one of the strictest in the world, because of the serious negative effects it would have on the economy.
The country had been on the slow road to recovery with the number of unemployed estimated at four million at the start of the year. The number, however, took a turn for the worst in the first quarter, with the total number of jobless Filipinos rising to 4,2 million.
The recent spike, as the first quarter came to an end, proved too dramatic to ignore.
While it could push the Philippines deeper into a depression, reopening the economy when the infections continued to skyrocket would have caused an even deadlier health crisis, driving fatalities from the hundreds per month to thousands.
OCTA Research fellow Fr. Nicanor Austriaco said the positive effects of the lockdown would be felt by April 7, when the number of new cases would begin to go down.
A typical coronavirus patient has a confinement period of 27 days, according to Austriaco. Thus, it will only be this week that the patients infected at the start of the surge will begin to recover and leave their hospital beds.
For this month, OCTA projects that hospital occupancy will remain above 70 percent.
The 80 percent occupancy rate is when hospitals generally begin to turn away patients. This is because while there may still be empty beds, there are not enough doctors and nurses, as well as support staff, to insure that all patients are taken care of.
The surge has been blamed on a variant of COVID-19, which the Health department said should not be referred to as a Philippine variant, but rather a variant that was first discovered in the Philippines.