Quarantine extension gains support
Interior Secretary Eduardo Año yesterday said the Inter-Agency Task Force (IATF) for the Management of Emerging Infectious Diseases would meet today to discuss whether the Luzon-wide quarantine would be extended or modified to address the health crisis.
Miguel De Guzman/File

Quarantine extension gains support

Romina Cabrera (The Philippine Star) - April 6, 2020 - 12:00am

MANILA, Philippines — From Vice President Leni Robredo to senators, opposition lawmakers and the secretary of the interior, there is growing support for the extension of the enhanced community quarantine but with restrictions gradually eased, and improved public health measures put in place.

Interior Secretary Eduardo Año yesterday said the Inter-Agency Task Force (IATF) for the Management of Emerging Infectious Diseases would meet today to discuss whether the Luzon-wide quarantine would be extended or modified to address the health crisis.

“As far as I am concerned, I think it’s better to continue the lockdown until we have flattened the curve, so we will not have any relapse,” he said in an interview.

Año said the possible extension of the quarantine is the No. 1 agenda of the meeting so that they could come up with a recommendation before April 10. 

He said the lockdown is effective and the country needs to extend the strict quarantine measures to sustain its gains.

“Pinag-aaralan nila yung trend sa buong mundo at saka yung pag-aaral dito sa coronavirus (They are studying the trend around the world and the study here of the coronavirus). Sinasabi kasi nila na (They are saying) compared with other countries, we are really doing good now. Compared with US, Italy, Spain, (Britain), we are really doing good because we have the lockdown,” he said in another interview with dzMM.

He added that the government is trying to avoid a relapse wherein a second surge of infections could be harder to contain. 

The DILG chief said they are “still expecting the worse” as the confirmed cases in the country topped 3,000. 

President Duterte placed the entire island of Luzon under enhanced community quarantine (ECQ) from March 17 to April 13 to contain the COVID-19, forcing a majority of the island’s more than 57 million residents to stay home and thousands of businesses to temporarily close shop. 
Cabinet Secretary Karlo Nograles said the recommendation on the lockdown would be based on various factors, including the country’s health system capacity, social, economic and security concerns, and the trends related to the spread of the disease.  
“Ultimately, President Duterte will decide. The task force’s recommendation will be based on scientific data and evidence and findings of our experts,” Nograles told radio station dzBB. 
Peace adviser Carlito Galvez Jr., chief implementer of the national policy on COVID-19, previously said the quarantine period may be extended by 15 days.

Health Secretary Francisco Duque III has also advised against easing existing quarantine measures.

Senators want extended lockdown

Yesterday, senators also renewed their call for the government to extend the lockdown, which is supposed to be lifted next week, to ensure the containment of COVID-19.

Sen. Sherwin Gatchalian said he favors the extension of the ECQ period by at least two weeks.

He said mass testing would also be undertaken on April 14 and lifting the ECQ before that date would undermine the reliability of the testing results and could only accelerate the spread of the virus.

Earlier, senators had expressed support for an extension of the ECQ but stressed the government should make a decision soon so that everybody can prepare and make adjustments.

Senate President Vicente Sotto III admitted the matter of extending or not the ECQ, which ends midnight of April 12, is a difficult decision to make.

“We have to study it (extending ECQ) well. Balance safety and economy. I agree with the thinking, ‘life first, economy later’,” Sotto told reporters last week.

Senate President Pro Tempore Ralph Recto pressed the government to work faster by mass testing all persons under investigation (PUIs), persons under monitoring (PUMs) and those who may have symptoms, and isolate those positive for the disease.

Sen. Panfilo Lacson said the matter is a “most difficult decision to strike a balance between flattening the curve of the COVID-19 and the looming economic recession due to a wide swath of business inactivity.”

“Thus, it is better left to those who have almost unlimited access to all the relevant data to decide which is the best course of action to take moving forward,” Lacson said.

Sen. Joel Villanueva warned the increasing incidence of COVID-19 positive individuals “tells us that the pandemic is not yet over.”

Senate Minority Leader Franklin Drilon warned that the government and experts are only beginning to see data of symptoms post-quarantine. 

“I see some data that shows it (ECQ) is effective. But too early to tell. An extra two weeks would help. We have sacrificed so much to prevent a further spread of the COVID-19 and a total collapse of our health system,” Drilon said.

He proposed the relaxing of the ECQ from May 1 to 30 but still no travel to and from Luzon and continue the closure of malls, churches, as well the moratorium on mass gatherings.

Opposition lawmakers back extension

Even opposition lawmakers are backing the extension of the Luzon-wide lockdown to give way to mass testing. 

 “Lockdown extension is needed to conduct coronavirus mass testing,” Albay Rep. Edcel Lagman said.

The independent opposition legislator, a member of the opposition Liberal Party led by Vice President Leni Robredo, said it “would be extremely difficult to implement initial selective and subsequent comprehensive mass testing in a dispersed and mobile population.”

“The projected start of mass testing after the lockdown expiration will be counter-productive,” he said. “Any extension must be coupled with continued social amelioration packages for the disadvantaged sectors and displaced workers and steady food supply.”

The suggestion to extend the lockdown period by two more weeks was first brought up by Rep. Joey Salceda, chairman of the House ways and means committee, who reiterated that a “premature lifting is against science, economics and history.”

 “A premature lifting of the ECQ would not be good for the economy. It will not fulfill our public health objectives. And it risks getting us back to square zero in terms of our progress in fighting this disease,” the House’s resident-economist pointed out. 

House Minority Leader Bienvenido Abante Jr., leader of the 28-member House opposition bloc, also supported the position of Salceda, who recently urged the government to adopt a two-week extension of the Luzon-wide ECQ.  

“I concur with Salceda when he says we should look at the data and heed the input of our scientists and medical professionals. Clearly, in this case, we must listen to science – but also not forget that even the Good Book has wise words for times like these,” he said. 

“Containing this outbreak should be our number one priority, and data from all over the world shows that measures such as the ECQ are effective in reducing the transmission of the virus,” Abante, a pastor and founder of the Metropolitan Bible Baptist church, said.

Salceda, who represents Albay’s second district, also called for a mandatory testing for PUIs and PUMs as well as more intensive contact tracing of people they have intermingled with by local government units. 

“We need to do 200,000 tests before we can entertain any thought of lifting the lockdown. Our ICU capacity also needs to be increased to 20,000,” he said, noting that mass testing will allow public officials to prioritize key areas for intervention. 

He requested the IATF to prepare for “waves of active infection” which could overwhelm the public health sector. “While we have done 11,466 COVID-19 tests, we are far from the minimum with a capacity for only 1,500 per day with all labs in already,” he added. 

“We also have to ramp up the capacity of treatment and isolation centers because that’s where the battle to save lives really happens. All these are necessary while we restore as much normalcy as possible to the economy – because we can’t fight a serious war without a war chest,” Salceda said.

Meanwhile, Robredo also backed the proposed extension of the ECQ in Luzon by 15 to 20 more days to ensure that the COVID-19 would be contained.

Robredo, however, urged the government to provide the people, especially the underprivileged, their basic necessities such as food, and clarify to them the need to lengthen the lockdown.

“I’m in favor (of the extension) because if we look at the projection (on the number of COVID-19 cases), the extension would be the best way to flatten the curve. However, the cooperation of the public is crucial, that’s why it’s important that they know why do we need to do this,” the Vice President said in an interview with ANC yesterday. – With Alexis Romero, Paolo Romero, Delon Porcalla, Helen Flores

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