'Risky, premature': OCTA Research warns vs placing entire PH in MGCQ

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Metro Manila (CNN Philippines, February 16) — The OCTA Research group has expressed alarm over the proposal of the National Economic and Development Authority (NEDA) to place the entire country under the most relaxed form of community quarantine by next month.

OCTA Research fellow Ranjit Rye on Tuesday said doing so will be dangerous since COVID-19 and UK variant cases are increasing in some areas. He also pointed out that the country has not yet even started vaccinating medical frontliners.

Rye said acting Socioeconomic Planning Secretary Karl Chua should be looking at the data instead of proposing to ease to modified general community quarantine by March, including Metro Manila which remains to be the epicenter of the virus.

"Hindi pwede maging arbitrary, premature ang pagbukas natin, it would be risky... Ang call ng NEDA MGCQ buong bansa," Rye told CNN Philippines. "Hindi mangyayari iyan sa March 1 kasi may seryosong outbreak sa Cebu, Caraga, Kalinga. Huwag na tayo mag-usap ng deadline."

[Translation: Easing restrictions shouldn't be arbitrary and premature, it would be risky. NEDA's call is to place the entire country under MGCQ. That will not happen by March 1 because there are serious outbreaks in Cebu, Caraga, and Kalinga. Let's not talk about this deadline.]

The Department of Health said that although COVID-19 cases are generally plateauing in the country, there are still spikes in Central Visayas and Caraga regions. Dr. Alethea de Guzman, a medical specialist at the DOH Epidemiology Bureau, added that although Metro Manila is recording a negative growth rate, eight cities are showing increased cases namely Valenzuela, Pasay, Malabon, Pasig, Makati, Navotas, Las Piñas, and Manila.

Rye also stressed that although the situation in Metro Manila is improving, COVID-19 transmission in the region has not yet been managed, citing "upticks" in several cities specifically Navotas. He added that there is also a new case of the more transmissible COVID-19 variant that was recorded in Pasay City.

"Dapat mag-ingat tayo sa proposals natin, dapat ma-achieve ang basic requisites to move to MGCQ," he said. "Sa ngayon wala pa tayo doon. We are not yet where we are supposed to be to move to MGCQ."

The NEDA chief on Monday proposed to President Rodrigo Duterte to allow the shift to MGCQ, increase public transportation operations from 50% to 70%, allow people aged five to 70 to go out for non-essential trips, and resume pilot face-to-face classes in low-risk areas. He said the country needs to recover from huge economic losses.

Instead of these proposals, OCTA group said the government should instead immunize healthcare workers, strengthen biosurveillance efforts to detect new variants, and improve testing and tracing capacity. Rye said these should be the "minimum" requirements before officials start to discuss easing quarantine limitations.