By John Ezekiel J. Hirro

Metro Manila needs to remain under general community quarantine (GCQ) until the “surge” in Covid-19 infections in the region is moderated, University of Santo Tomas (UST) researchers said.

Researchers Bernhard Egwolf and Fr. Nicanor Austriaco, O.P. noted that in recent weeks, Metro Manila’s “positivity rate,” or the percentage of Covid-19 tests that had turned out positive, hovered above 10 percent.

Only areas with positivity rates below five percent could consider disease outbreaks as “under control,” based on World Health Organization guidelines.

The “UST CoV-2” epidemiological model developed by Austriaco and Egwolf also found the “hospitalization rate” in the capital region, or the percentage of beds occupied, on an upward trend since early July.

“Together, the rise in the positivity rate and in the hospitalization rate indicate that the NCR (National Capital Region) is undergoing a real surge in the pandemic which needs to be addressed immediately by public health authorities,” the researchers said.

‘Unknown city’

Austriaco and Egwolf called on the Department of Health to improve the reporting of Covid-19 geographical identifiers.

The research model put positives not assigned to a particular city but known to be in NCR under an “unknown city” category. Almost half of the region’s cases since June were recorded under “unknown city,” they noted.

“It is troubling that the surge is occurring in this ‘unknown’ geographical category. The number of Covid-19 positive persons is disproportionately increasing in this category relative to the other geographical regions in the NCR. Statistically, this cannot be explained by random clerical or encoding errors,” the researchers said.

“Without proper geographical identification of positive cases, it will be difficult for public health authorities to properly understand the extent of the surge and to control the pandemic through contact tracing, tracking, and isolation,” they added.

On Monday, newly appointed Covid-19 contact tracing czar Benjamin Magalong said the country’s contact tracing system would undergo a “radical change,” which would digitalize patient and contact data and use a geographic information system to visualize the extent of potential infection.

The UST researchers also recommended stricter enforcement of localized lockdowns in local government units.

These lockdowns should be enacted in a “timely manner,” taking into account the two-week period of virus incubation and the period in which “asymptomatic” carriers, or those showing no symptoms of the disease, become non-infectious, they said.

Should localized lockdowns be unable to slow the spread of Covid-19 in NCR, Austriaco and Egwolf said the government should be ready to place the region back under the stricter modified enhanced or enhanced community quarantine “to protect our health care system and to minimize cases and deaths.”

President Rodrigo Duterte is expected to announce new quarantine classifications for July 16 to 31 tomorrow, July 15.

National Task Force Covid-19 Chief Implementer Carlito Galvez said some areas might have their community quarantines “escalated” due to the continuous increase in severe and critical Covid-19 cases.

Mayors of Metro Manila have appealed for the extension of the region’s GCQ.