Metro Manila and four of its surrounding provinces will have to bear with another extension of the lockdown which began late last month.

This, after University of the Philippines think tank OCTA Research’s recommendation for an extension was partially accepted by President Rodrigo Duterte on April 11.

OCTA Research said at the end of last week that at least one more week was needed to guarantee that the surge in coronavirus cases would be stopped, or at least slowed down substantially.

The Duterte administration only agreed to a modified enhanced community quarantine, or MECQ, which is not as strict as the enhanced community quarantine (ECQ) that went in effect last month.

For one, the 6pm to 5am curfew has been adjusted to 8pm to 5am effective April 12. Also, more public utility vehicles will be allowed on the streets of the metropolis.

All of Metro Manila plus the provinces of Bulacan, Cavite, Laguna, and Rizal would have to complete more than three full weeks of the ECQ as the extension will last until the end of April.

Considered as the harshest possible lockdown, the ECQ has resulted in countless businesses grinding to a halt thereby crippling the economy further.

Due to “socio-economic reasons,” OCTA said a one- to two-week MECQ could “sustain the gains” made over the past two weeks.

According to professor Ranjit Rye, who usually serves as spokesman for OCTA Research, the coronavirus situation in Metro Manila and the four adjoining provinces – collectively known as NCR Plus – was “not yet ideal for opening up.”

He said the reproduction number of COVID-19 remains above one, which means that each coronavirus case can still infect more than one person, and the average number of new cases per day remains “very high.”

Moreover, Rye said, “a continuing concern is that hospital capacity in the region and the bubble remain at critical capacity.”

He added that more time is needed to slow down the surge.

“We cannot open prematurely as this could accelerate the surge,” he said.

President Rodrigo Duterte is expected to act on the OCTA Research recommendation when he meets with his Cabinet this week. As of press time, Malacañang had not yet decided what course of action to take.

OCTA Research has been on target thus far where projections of the spread of COVID-19 are concerned.

In early March, the think tank of the state university had projected that the 1,500 to 2,000 new cases per day at the start of the month would balloon to 10,000 to 12,000 a day by end-March to the first week of April.

Dr. Tony Leachon, a former adviser to the government’s pandemic response team until he was asked to leave after several clashes with its members, said the “porous borders” of NCR Plus rendered any extension an exercise in futility.

Residents traveling in and out of the locked down area were barely being checked, he said.

Said Leachon, “Our borders are porous. Treating a province as another country should be our mindset.”

The suggestion was easier said than done, according to League of Provinces of the Philippines president Presbitero Velasco, Jr.

Also the governor of Marinduque province, Velasco said “it’s really difficult to monitor and check each and every one of them.

He cited such provinces as Batangas and Isabela, “which have many points of ingress and egress.”

The Philippines appeared to be taking control of the spread of the pandemic in February, until several variants of COVID-19 appeared. As a result, the average number of daily cases tripled from February to March.

The all-time high for one day of new infections was reached on April 2, when 15,310 cases were reported.

Leachon said he believes local government units are not doing enough to test inbound travelers. As such, he does not expect the number of new cases to drop dramatically anytime soon.

Of the national government, he said, “I don’t think there’s a contingency plan.”