Duque: Metro Manila shift to MGCQ still a go amid COVID-19 mutations, case spike in Visayas

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Metro Manila (CNN Philippines, February 19) — There is no stopping Metro Manila’s imminent shift to the most lenient form of community quarantine despite the recent detection of two COVID-19 mutations and rapid increase of coronavirus cases in Central Visayas, Health Secretary Francisco Duque III said on Friday.

The Department of Health said a sharp, alarming rise in COVID-19 cases has been recorded in Central Visayas, particularly in the Province of Cebu, Cebu City, Lapulapu, and Mandaue. Out of the 50 samples taken from COVID-19 patients in Region 7, 31 or 62% were found with both "mutations of concern to the global community.” The mutations identified as E484K and N501Y were found in the United Kingdom and South Africa COVID-19 variants that are more transmissible.

But for Duque, it remains unclear if the new mutations are to blame for the steep increase in cases in the Visayan region. He, however, said that the region’s shift to modified general community quarantine this year could be one of the reasons for the continuous rise in coronavirus infections in the area.

“Marami tayong ibang factors na dapat alamin o obserbahan. Nag-MGCQ ang Region 7, so tumaas ang mobility ng mga tao. Kung tumaas ang mobility, ang contact rate tumaas din, so transmission rate ay tumaas din. Tingin ko iyan ang posibleng dahilan, pero pwedeng hindi lang siya ang dahilan. Maraming dahilan,” he said in a media briefing.

[Translation: There are many factors that need to be observed. Region 7 was placed on MGCQ so there was an increase in mobility. Once that goes up, the contact rate and transmission rate also go up. I think that is a possible reason. It may not be the only reason, there may be other reasons.]

Despite this admission, he believes Metro Manila is ready to ease restrictions even if questions remain unanswered if the mutations will develop into variants or if it increases virus transmissibility. He said local officials need to scale up testing, tracing, and isolation efforts, adding minimum health standards should be continuously enforced.

“It will not affect it because NCR is a different region,” he said.

Vaccine czar Carlito Galvez Jr. is also confident that the country is ready to shift to MGCQ by next month. The country’s COVID-19 task force has prepared for the eventual shift to MGCQ pending President Rodrigo Duterte’s decision.

“Very confident ako ha, ‘yung Metro Manila, kayang kaya nila ‘yan. Kasi nakikita naman natin kahit nag GCQ, nag-open up na tayo ng economy eh. Pinaguusapan nga namin, na ‘yung GCQ natin parang MGCQ na ‘yan eh,” he said in a separate event.

[Translation: I am very confident that Metro Manila can do it. We saw how they handled GCQ that is almost similar to MGCQ.]

Duque said they will continue to monitor Central Visayas if stricter lockdowns need to be enforced to arrest the spread of COVID-19 and its mutations.