Duque optimistic NCR hospitals ready for possible COVID-19 case surge under proposed MGCQ

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Metro Manila (CNN Philippines, February 22)— Health Secretary Francisco Duque III on Monday expressed optimism that Metro Manila hospitals would be ready for a possible surge in COVID-19 cases should the capital region be placed under the more lenient modified general community quarantine.

“So far tingin natin, kakayanin, kakayanin naman (We think they can do it),” Duque said in an interview with CNN Philippines’ The Source. “We will never be able to know until that situation actually evolves, whether the system is ready.”

“We’ll see. The important thing is we are nimble, we are agile,” he added, noting that NCR can always revert to stricter measures, including implementation of localized lockdowns, if the data supports an “escalation” of restrictions.

According to Duque, Metro Manila’s health care utilization rate for COVID-19 currently stands at 34%, which is perceived as low-risk.

Health experts and government officials have conflicting views on the proposal to place the entire Philippines under MGCQ— as questions arise on how the country can effectively balance health and economic aspects amid the COVID-19 crisis.

Independent research group OCTA earlier warned that relaxing quarantine restrictions in Metro Manila will lead to a surge of up to 2,400 new cases per day by March 26, equaling its daily tally when the region was placed under modified enhanced community quarantine in August last year.

Duque expressed hope that this projected spike would not happen, saying that the country and local government units are now wiser and more effective in containing virus infections.

“That was really terrible. But now we’re smarter. We know what can be or should be done,” he said.

The health chief also underscored the importance of constantly monitoring metrics including the COVID-19 attack rate and health care capacity, which he stressed is an important data that guides the Inter-Agency Task Force in its quarantine recommendations.

’Simultaneous approach’

While a number of lawmakers and government officials, including Vice President Leni Robredo, questioned the idea to ease quarantine restrictions prior to the arrival of vaccines, Duque believes the country should maintain a “broad” and “simultaneous” approach when it comes to the pandemic response.

“Dapat malawakan ang pamamaraan. Hindi mutually exclusive kung bakuna, bakuna muna, tapos magbubukas ng ekonomiya,” Duque argued. “Hindi, sabay sabay na nating gawin ito.

[Translation: We should have a broad approach. It shouldn’t be mutually exclusive that when there’s a vaccine, vaccine first, before we open the economy. We should do these simultaneously.]

Duque added the proposal to declare a nationwide MGCQ— first floated by the National Economic and Development Authority in a bid to bounce back from economic losses— will be the “main agenda item” during President Rodrigo Duterte’s Cabinet meeting tonight.