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NEDA, which wants reopening, locks down HQ due to COVID-19 spike

Ian Nicolas Cigaral - Philstar.com
NEDA, which wants reopening, locks down HQ due to COVID-19 spike
This file photo shows the central office of National Economic Development Authority (NEDA) in Pasig City.
STAR / File

MANILA, Philippines (UPDATE 1:30 p.m., March 15) — The coronavirus has reached the halls of the government’s planning agency leading the relentless push for the economy to reopen from pandemic lockdowns.

The National Economic and Development Authority (NEDA) headquarters in Pasig is placed in lockdown from March 15 to 21 "due to the increase in the number of confirmed and suspected COVID-19 cases," a copy of a memorandum from acting chief Karl Kendrick Chua dated March 14 stated.

The memo, shared by a NEDA employee to Philstar.com, tasked employees to work remotely "to ensure that public service delivery is not prejudiced." 

The contents of the memo were in contrast to the NEDA's official statement that said only employees in "non-critical" roles were asked to work from home. There was also no mention of a surge in cases in the media statement, with the agency only citing the set-up “as preventive measure.”

It is worth noting, however, that since last year, state offices have been operating with a skeleton workforce in the office to prevent infections.

The number of COVID-19 cases at the NEDA rose to six this month from two over the past 3 months, with more suspected cases being monitored. At least one of those cases was detected from the staff of Acting Socioeconomic Planning Secretary Karl Kendrick Chua last March 1. Chua said separately the infected individual is doing fine, and had no close contact with him. 

“(This) seems old news…Staff will be tested in the 14th day to be sure he is ok…And it’s already the 13th day,” he said in a Viber message.

Chua last had a negative PCR test for the coronavirus last March 2, a day after the infected person was diagnosed. There is typically a 14-day incubation period before symptoms manifest, but the secretary was confident he was not infected because “we implement a bubble system in my office as precaution.”

“I get tested regularly before any Cabinet meeting,” he added.

Outside NEDA, a number of state officials were not so lucky and have tested positive for COVID-19, including police chief Debold Sinas and presidential spokesperson Harry Roque, as announced on Monday. The Bangko Sentral ng Pilipinas in Roxas Boulevard and the Bureau of Immigration in Intramuros were also closed down for disinfection. 

In other government branches, the Supreme Court in Padre Faura Street in Manila will also be disinfected. In smaller jurisdictions, Pasig Mayor Vico Sotto also announced going on self-quarantine on Monday, following exposure to a COVID-19 case who eventually died.

These string of infections and disinfections bring back grim memories of the pandemic’s early days last year, on the exact same day in 2020 that Metro Manila was placed on lockdown. Since a slow reopening in June, NEDA’s Chua has been at the forefront of fight to relax more restrictions, aid economic recovery and address elevated joblessness and hunger.

But a combo of various COVID-19 variants deemed more infectious, one of which originated from the Philippines, has pushed back the lifting of prohibitions. On Monday, a complete turnaround from this easing happened when some Metro Manila areas re-imposed curfews and put up checkpoints again over the next 2 weeks. 

“With safety measures in place, NEDA is open to ensure critical service continues,” NEDA said.

NOVEL CORONAVIRUS

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