Puerto Princesa City is set to breach the 500 mark in the number of active CVD19 cases in its pandemic scoreboard, the biggest running total it had seen since last year and the highest spike by far, as a surge in infections that began in early March continued.

As of May 6, the city has a total of 494 active cases. On March 3 before the surge began, it only had three remaining active cases and the low-risk classification of moderate general community quarantine (MGCQ).

The rapid deterioration of the pandemic situation has been marked by 22 CVD19-related deaths, with half of the cases occurring in the first week of May.

One of the fatalities, an antigen-positive suspect case, died Thursday before authorities could get him to undergo a confirmatory RT-PCR test. This was the 7th reported instance of death among suspect cases, as the city struggled to catch up with its confirmatory tests.

The City Epidemiological Surveillance Unite (CESU) also reported on Thursday 152 “suspect” cases, or patients who had tested as antigen reactive and requiring isolation in a quarantine facility.

The steep climb in cases stemming from contact tracing of confirmed ones had forced the city government to place five contiguous barangays in the city center to a “hard lockdown” on April 23. The decision slowed down the pace of increase on a daily basis, as the city’s monitoring system showed.

However, the trend began to rise again when the ECQ-styled lockdown was lifted and the city decided to adapt a nationally-mandated Modified General Community Quarantine (MGCQ) classification on May 6. (see graph below based on official CESU data)

Cause of the Surge

The spiral of CVD19 cases began with only three remaining cases left last March 3 before the city government held an event at the Acacia Lane Tunnel that was attended by a huge crowd. (see graph below showing the rise of cases since the Acacia Tunnel Lighting Event)

The city government continues to evade widespread speculations thrown about on social media that the Acacia Tunnel lighting event it had organized in early March was a super-spreader. A press briefing last week, attributed the spike to the national government’s decision to do away with the quarantine requirements for persons traveling on official basis, or those classified as “persons outside of residence” (APORs).

It did however reference the surge to two APORS who arrived from Manila on March 3. This was stated as a premise of an executive order reimposing a travel ban in the city. (see screenshot of City Executive Order 21)

Battling the trend

City mayor Lucilo Bayron fronted for the city government last week in calling for all residents’ cooperation in implementing the hard lockdown on the five barangays where most of the cases had been reported.

Earlier this week, the city government walked back a previous decision to send home suspect cases without completing a facility-based quarantine regimen, citing its lack of available personnel to manage its fully booked isolation facilities.

Acknowledging the move to be a potential cause of increased infections, it vowed to find other ways to accommodate antigen reactive cases in isolation facilities, under a scheme where essentially they will take care of themselves as the limited available manpower concentrates on taking care of mild to severe cases. Palawan News however has received reports from several antigen-positive patients who claimed that they had been allowed to leave the facilities without completing their quarantine period.

Even the City Council has scrambled with its own solution, proposing through a resolution that at least one day of the weekend be declared as a “no movement” date, claiming it will reduce the spread of infections.

Meanwhile, the number of reported “recoveries” remained lower than the rate of increase in active and suspect cases. As of the CESU’s tracking of Thursday’s cases, there were 30 “recovered confirmed cases” but at the same time, there were 78 new confirmed cases and 47 new suspect cases.

Nearly all of the cases are concentrated in poblacion barangays, topped by Barangay San Miguel with 79 active cases, except for the northern barangay of Macarascas where a naval military facility got hit with 39 active cases, believed to be a case of local transmission.

About 85 percent of the cases were classified as “mild” while the remaining 15 percent were “severe to critical” cases.

Around 87 percent were classified as local transmission cases, reflecting the spread of the virus within the contiguous barangays within the city proper.

About 13 % of these cases have been classified as “imported cases”, typically those attributed to so-called APORs that are allowed to enter the city as exemptions from the general travel ban. Officially, the city government attributes the current surge to the lifting of the quarantine requirements for APORs. (Reporting by Romar Miranda, Patricia Laririt and Loren Jane Tumalac)