Philippines eases Covid-19 curbs in Metro Manila, but tightens reins in regions seeing spikes

MANILA – The Philippines eased quarantine restrictions slightly for Metro Manila on Monday (May 31), but tightened the reins around regions seeing a surge in infections.

A task force overseeing efforts to combat the coronavirus outbreak in the country recommended that Metro Manila and four nearby provinces remain under “general community quarantine” as infections fall, but that companies in the meetings, conventions and events industry should also be allowed to reopen.

President Rodrigo Duterte approved the task force’s recommendations late on Monday night.

Quarantine classifications were raised in regions where cases had been spiking.

On Monday, the Health Ministry also flagged at least six regions, mostly in the central and southern parts of the country, that are experiencing a surge in infections and where hospitals are being overtaxed.

“Their healthcare utilisation is nearing the high-risk level,” Health Undersecretary Maria Rosario Vegeire told reporters.

She said the southern island of Mindanao, which is slightly larger than Ireland and home to close to 26 million, has very few intensive care beds set aside for Covid-19 patients.

“We are now assisting them so that we can better expand the capacity,” she added.

Data trackers at the University of the Philippines-based Octa Research Group listed 19 provinces outside Metro Manila as “areas of concern”.

Infections in one province – Isabela, 400km north of Manila – were rising by as much as 149 per cent. In Camarines Sur, south of the capital, seven in 10 of those tested were turning in positive results.

Metro Manila, which spans 16 cities, remains the epicentre, recording about 1,000 cases daily. With more than 504,000 cases, it accounts for nearly half of all infections in the country.

The Philippines has more than 1.2 million cases, and close to 21,000 have died. It has the second-worst outbreak in South-east Asia, after Indonesia.

Advising the government against easing restrictions in Metro Manila, Octa researchers said the downward trend there seemed to be slowing down. Infections slid by just 1 per cent in the past week, from as much as a 23 per cent decline the previous week.

The Health Ministry has been reporting more than 6,000 cases a day countrywide since last Thursday, after daily seeing the numbers fall to below 5,000.

The reproduction number – the speed at which the virus spreads – has ticked up to 0.69 from 0.57. The World Health Organisation considers 1 as an acceptable number.

Professor Guido David, a fellow at Octa, said spikes seen in the central and southern parts of the Philippines could be due to a “ripple effect” from the surge in cases in Metro Manila in March and April.

“There’s already a cycle. It seems there’s a ripple effect. Infections are spreading to the provinces, but these eventually may return to Metro Manila,” he said.

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