MORE than a year since the Covid-19 pandemic, returning to the "old normal" continues to be a blurry vision brought about by the challenges emerging from the pandemic, ranging from the variants of concern to issues and controversies surrounding the vaccines.
The Philippines is not exempted from these challenges as it faces a second wave of Covid-19 cases. The bulk of the new cases are in the National Capital Region (NCR).
NCR along with its neighboring regions, Bulacan, Cavite, Laguna, and Rizal were placed under enhanced community quarantine (ECQ) in late March to curb the spread of the novel coronavirus. Starting April 12, 2021, these areas will be placed under modified ECQ.
Meanwhile, Davao Region and Davao City have seemingly ended their first wave of Covid-19 cases just recently. Local government units and Davao City are now putting in place measures to ensure that a second wave does not happen.
Davao City is currently experiencing a downtrend in Covid-19 cases since February 2021. This has led to the Inter-agency Task Force for the management of Emerging Infectious Diseases (IATF) to classify Davao City as a "low risk" area.
City Health Office (CHO) Acting Head Dr. Ashley Lopez said the classification, as of April 3, is based on two indicators: the low two-week growth rate and the Average Daily Attack Rate (Adar).
Lopez said the "Low Risk" local government unit (LGU) classification as shown on the Community Quarantine Decision Matrix is slightly higher compared to the previous week's "minimal risk" classification.
However, it took quite some time for the city to get to where it is right now.
Based on the daily bulletin cases of the Department of Health, Davao City experienced a sudden surge in Covid-19 cases mid-October last year when the city was currently placed under modified general community quarantine (MGCQ). The spike in Covid-19 cases was attributed to more people being able to move around and gathering together.
In response, the IATF placed the city under GCQ, while the liquor ban and curfew were reinstated.
However, active Covid-19 cases continued to increase after Christmas and New Year due to unessential mass gatherings and holiday activities during the holidays.
Around the last quarter of 2020 and into January 2021, active cases in the city fluctuated around 2,000 to 2,500.
However, after the city intensified its contact tracing and testing capabilities and implemented several policies to limit the movement of people, it started to see a downtrend in Covid-19 cases, which was felt around the first week of February.
"So far, so good. We have relatively low cases, and we were able to sustain a minimum number of cases for Davao City. We're still trying to get it as low as possible," Lopez said in an interview with SunStar Davao's online news program The Talking Heads on April 9.
Despite the downtrend, Davao City remains to be under GCQ while the rest of the region is under MGCQ.
Lopez said the decrease in active and new Covid-19 cases can be attributed to the cooperation and compliance of Dabawenyos and the private sector to the government and the policies it creates.
"If we are going to deal with the overwhelming pandemic, like this Covid-19, kinahanglan naa kay ma-establish (there is a need to establish) a good governing body," he said, referring to the Davao City Covid-19 Task Force, who oversights the city's pandemic response.
Lopez said the city's response and policies on prevention, testing, isolation, treatment, and contact tracing were based on the guidelines set by the Department of Health (DOH).
From a peak of 2,500 active cases, the city was able to bring it down to around 300 cases by April.
This improvement resulted in a respite of the city's health care and treatment facilities. Due to the decrease in Covid-19 cases, the city opted to temporarily close some of its temporary treatment and monitoring facilities (TTMF) and isolation facilities.
Duterte-Carpio also revealed that all 19 private hospitals that were designated by the One Hospital command to cater Covid-19 positive patients have temporarily stopped accepting Covid-19 patients. All Covid-19 patients now will be referred to the Southern Philippines Medical Center (SPMC).
Lopez, however, said that this relief for private hospitals will allow them to prepare their beds and other facilities in case of a possible surge.
The temporary closure of some of the TTMFs will also allow the city to perform maintenance and improve the facilities.
Davao City Mayor Sara Duterte-Carpio said in a recent radio interview that Davao City is at a “tail-end of surge.”
The mayor explained that the city experienced a surge in cases right after Metro Manila and Cebu in October last year. And it is not far from possible that the city could experience a second wave.
"Kung dili ta mag-istrikto sa atoang minimum public health standards, ug atoang i-open at this point atong city, meaning tanggalon nato atong (If we do not strictly follow the minimum health standards and we further open the city, meaning lifting the) curfew, liquor ban, alternative working arrangements, and all other health protocols or regulations nga gina-implement sa pagkakaron (that we are implementing now), most likely we can expect sa second wave of surge," Duterte-Carpio said in an interview on 87.5 FM Davao City Disaster Radio on Monday, March 8, 2021.
Posing a threat to the city and other localities in the country are the new variants of Sars-CoV-2.
DOH confirmed the discovery of the B.1.1.7. variant, which was first detected in the United Kingdom (UK), in Davao Region on February 13 this year.
The provincial government of Davao de Oro confirmed on Saturday, February 13, 2021, that two of the three Covid-19 patients from Davao Region were infected with the B.1.1.7. are from their province.
Another case was from Davao City -- a 10-year-old boy, who was asymptomatic and had no history of travel. He was the city’s first recorded B.1.1.7. case and had since recovered.
Lopez also reported that another resident in the city, a female returning overseas Filipino worker (ROFW) from Dubai, tested positive for the UK variant, but the patient was quarantined in Metro Manila.
Despite recording its first case of the new variant, this did not result in a surge of Covid-19 cases in the city.
As of now, he said it is safe to say that Davao City is free from any of the variants of concern.
According to DOH, there are currently four Sars-CoV-2 strains in the country -- B.1.1.7, B.1.351 (first detected in South Africa), P.1 (first detected in Brazil), and P.3 (first detected in the Philippines).
Lopez said they send all specimens of Covid-19 patients to the Philippine Genome Center in Manila.
He said the process would take two to three weeks before the confirmatory test would reach the city.
However, he clarified that all specimens would undergo cycle threshold to determine which of these will be sent to Manila.
Lopez said it will be alarming if 30 specimens are found to be new variants.
For now, Lopez said no new confirmed cases with the new strain that has been found in Davao City.
Don’t be complacent
Duterte-Carpio said that the downtrend of COovid-19 confirmed positive cases in recent weeks should not be a cause for the public to be complacent.
Even with the preparations, the mayor said there is still a possibility that the variants of concern will make their way to the city and cause another surge in Covid-19 cases.
“I-manage lang pud nato atong mga expectations noh makita nato ang surge sa NCR LGUs and surrounding areas nga dili layo ang UK variant nga muabot jud na diri kay open gihapon travel diri sa Davao,” Duterte-Carpio said.
(Let’s manage our expectations. We are now seeing a surge in cases in the NCR LGUs and their surrounding areas, it’s not far-fetched that the UK variant will enter here since travel to Davao is still open.)
She said those places with rising Covid-19 cases will most likely bring the virus to other areas through means of travel. This meant that some individuals may bring the new variants here.
Lopez said the city is intensifying its border control for air, land, and sea travels.
After lifting the RT-PCR requirement at the Francisco Bangoy International Airport, also known as the Davao International Airport, the city reinstated the requirement through City Ordinance 0477-21, Series of 2021, or an ordinance providing for mandatory testing prior to entry into the city via Davao International Airport.
"Dili gyud nato gusto makasulod ang (We do not want the entry of the) new Covid-19 variants here in the city. Because once there is one, two, or three variants that would be able to come in, then human (it’s too late) ... it will explode. That's what happened in Cebu and Manila," the health official said.
(Editor’s note: This is a two-part series on the Covid-19 situation in Davao City and what the local government unit is doing to manage it.)