MORE stringent rules will have to be considered by the government if coronavirus infections continue to increase after the current two-week semi-lockdown imposed on the capital Metro Manila and four surrounding provinces, researchers said on Wednesday.

If the current coronavirus reproduction rate of 2.0 does not go down to 1.5 within the two-week period from Mar. 22 to Apr. 4, the government should implement the second strictest level tagged as modified enhanced community quarantine (MECQ),  the OCTA Research Team from the University of the Philippines said in a televised press briefing.

“Let’s give the bubble a chance, but if the cases continue to go up after next week, then we should think about a stricter quarantine classification,” Ranjit S. Rye, one of the group’s members, said in a mix of English and Filipino.

The “bubble” covers the National Capital Region and the provinces of  Bulacan, Rizal, Laguna, and Cavite.

Mr. Rye said stricter restrictions for four weeks could “knock out” the renewed surge in coronavirus cases and address the weakening capacity of hospitals within these areas.

“For four weeks, it will really knock it out,” he said, noting that it will also coincide with the expected arrival of more vaccines.

He said it is “more realistic” to observe a downtrend in infections “after four weeks of stricter restrictions.”

Mr. Rye said they are suggesting a “soft MECQ,” wherein public transportation will not be limited so it can provide service to workers.

A number of business establishments will also be allowed to continue operations.

Meanwhile, the group Advocates of Science and Technology for the People (AGHAM) on Wednesday pushed for free mass testing and extensive contact tracing to arrest the virus transmission.

“The Philippines must immediately implement free mass testing and more aggressive contact tracing in view of increased transmission of COVID-19,” AGHAM said in a statement.

The group also urged the government to increase its support to the local sector for producing testing kits to make the supply “sufficient, affordable, and not solely dependent on imports.”

“Scientists from UP have already demonstrated that we can make our own testing kits,” it said. “We have competent scientists, technologists, and engineers to propel our country forward in this direction.”

“With a massive budget of at least $2.91B through various loans at its disposal, we expected a system that is prepared to address a possible worse surge of the disease. To say that we are disappointed is an understatement,” it said. — Kyle Aristophere T. Atienza