COVID-19 reproduction rate drops after MECQ, but PH needs to ‘sustain momentum’ in pandemic fight — research group

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Metro Manila (CNN Philippines, August 24)— The Philippines has seen a downward trend in the coronavirus’ reproductive rate following the two-week implementation of stricter quarantine measures in Metro Manila and nearby provinces, but the country needs to “sustain the momentum” to win the pandemic battle, a group of researchers said.

Speaking to CNN Philippines on Monday, Professor Ranjit Rye of the University of the Philippines OCTA Research Team said the country’s “reproductive number”— a statistic used to measure the rate of virus transmission— is currently hovering around the value of 1.1, lower than the 1.7 to 1.8 figures recorded about three weeks ago.

Dahil sa MECQ (modified enhanced community quarantine), nakikita natin na bumagal ‘yung pagkalat ng virus,” Rye said in an interview with Balitaan.

“If it's below one, e di maganda," he explaimed. "Ibig sabihin, humihina siya at slowly nagfa-flatten ‘yung curve. Ngayon, sa bansa, it's around 1.1… So these are very good trends but these are trends that we need to sustain because the MECQ provided us a momentum.”

[Translation: Because of the MECQ, we saw that the rate of virus transmission slowed down. If it’s below one, it’s good. It means it’s slowing down and we’re slowly flattening the curve. Right now, in our country, it’s around 1.1.]

The reproductive number is an epidemiologic metric used to describe the “contagiousness” or transmission potential of infectious agents, according to the United States’ National Center for Biotechnology Information.

This represents the number of people who may be infected by a confirmed case. Ideally, this should be one or less, as anything higher means there is still significant community transmission, according to medical experts.

Rye, however, warned that the trends are subject to change. He pointed out that the development should not let the country slacken its efforts to combat the health crisis.

“Kung hindi natin masu-sustain ito, we expect na tataas ito after GCQ (general community quarantine)… we need to move double time,” the professor stressed.

Apart from boosting the government’s COVID-19 response, Rye also underscored the roles of the private sector and the civil society in battling the crisis. These include securing workplaces, as well as following the minimum health protocols to prevent the virus’ spread.

PH flattening the curve soon? 'Nothing certain at this point’

In response to reports that the Philippines may flatten the COVID-19 curve by September, the Department of Health (DOH) stressed that the country’s fate is up in the air.

“Nothing is certain at this point, we will see if our recalibrated strategies would be effective or we'd still need to further these strategies so we can eventually lower the cases and have our health system breathe again,” Health Spokesperson Ma. Rosario Vergeire said in a briefing on the same day.

Vergeire also encouraged the public to practice caution when interpreting the curve, as experts and officials would also need to compare the data with the status of the country’s health care system.

3 million undetected cases in PH ‘unlikely’

Another member of the UP OCTA research group, meanwhile, said it is “very unlikely” that the number of undetected COVID-19 cases in the country has reached 3 million.

A non-peer reviewed academic paper recently published on the website of Ateneo de Manila University found that virus cases in the Philippines from April to June may have been 2,812,891 instead of the reported 34,354.

Professor Guido David said the assumption is “not realistic." He said the positivity rate between March to June was lower than the value recorded in July and August.

“Mababa actually ang positivity rate noon, which is about 5 to 10%…in fact it was 5 to 6% for most of that part, and then noong June it started increasing," David said. "The low positivity rate indicates, even though we didn’t have a lot of tests, that we don’t really have that many, many cases---not 3 million.”

[Translation: The positivity rate at that time was lower, which is about 5 to 10%. In fact, it was 5 to 6% for most of that part, and then it started to increase in June.]

The professor, however, noted that there are indeed thousands of projected unidentified COVID-19 cases for the time period.

To date, coronavirus infections in the country climbed closer to 190,000, with the DOH reporting over 2,000 new cases on Sunday.

CNN Philippines' Carolyn Bonquin contributed to this report.