The Covid-19 pandemic has been “relatively subdued and controlled” in Metro Manila despite a shift to the less restrictive general community quarantine (GCQ) on June 1, modelling by researchers from the University of Santo Tomas (UST) showed.

The UST study looked at the “positivity rate” of Covid-19 tests, or the percentage of total Covid-19 tests that are positive, and the rate of hospitalization of infected cases, to see if there was a real surge in cases.

“[T]he positivity rate for Metro Manila has fallen from a high of around 30% at the beginning of April to just around 5% in early June. We believe that this indicates that community spread remains low despite the apparent spike in cases reported at the beginning of June,” said a report posted on the UST website, authored by Fr. Nicanor Austriaco, O.P., Assoc. Prof. Bernhard Egwolf and Angus White.

They said the numbers of total beds and ICU beds available for Covid-19 patients “remained steady” in Metro Manila. “However, the percentage of both occupied total beds and occupied ICU beds for Covid-19 patients has gradually decreased over the past month. Once again, we believe that this indicates that community spread remains low in Metro Manila despite the apparent spike in cases reported at the beginning of June,” they said.

The UST CoV-2 epidemiological model developed by Austriaco, who has a doctorate in biology from MIT, and Egwolf, a physicist and mathematician, projected 16,547 cases in Metro Manila by June 30, 2020, with 2,756 deaths.

Using only the numbers for “fresh cases” from the health department, their estimates were lower — 14,032 total cases and 1,853 deaths.

“Once again, because of the uncertainty of the DOH data, these numbers remain estimates that can give us a sense of the possible progression of the pandemic. Given our earlier analysis, we favor the second model that only includes the fresh cases since this forecast would follow from a controlled local pandemic,” they said.

Before further easing of lockdown measures to a modified GCQ, the UST researchers said the positivity rate of tests must be kept below 5 percent and hospitalizations should decrease, for at least the next two weeks.

Austriaco and Egbert repeated a previous recommendation to boost Metro Manila testing capacity to 15,000 tests per day and deploy 1,800 contact tracers.

“Finally, we encourage local authorities to continue to impose targeted lockdowns by zones to quarantine affected buildings, streets, and/or barangays that have elevated numbers of Covid-19 positive patients. This strategy of focused lockdowns should be coupled with extensive testing and tracking of contacts within these “high-risk” red zones to break chains of viral transmission,” they said. (