Some Metro Manila cities may be eased to GCQ
Presidential spokesman Harry Roque said there have been observations that the case doubling time in Metro Manila has slowed down from two to three days to five to six days.
Miguel de Guzman

Some Metro Manila cities may be eased to GCQ

Edu Punay, Alexis Romero (The Philippine Star) - May 8, 2020 - 12:00am

MANILA, Philippines — The government may ease quarantine restrictions in parts of Metro Manila where the spread of the coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) is slowing down, Malacañang said yesterday.

Presidential spokesman Harry Roque said there have been observations that the case doubling time in Metro Manila has slowed down from two to three days to five to six days.

“If the data that show that the spread of the disease is slowing down does not change and we still have the capacity to provide critical care, perhaps that is the direction we are taking,” Roque said at a press briefing when asked whether some Metro Manila cities may be placed under general community quarantine (GCQ).

“That is why our appeal for the remaining days...is stay at home so the IATF (Inter-Agency Task Force on Emerging Infectious Diseases) won’t have difficulties lifting the ECQ (enhanced community quarantine) especially in Metro Manila,” he added.

Metro Manila, home to more than 12 million people, has been under ECQ since March 17. The lockdown, which has been extended twice, is supposed to last until May 15.

Under ECQ, mass transportation is suspended and only essential businesses and services can operate. Restrictions under GCQ are relax as public transportation can now operate but at reduced capacity. Selected establishments, including malls, may also resume operations but are required to comply with social distancing and health standards.

“I am not sure if it (the lifting of ECQ) will cover the entire Metro Manila because in other cities, the cases still double in every two to three days,” Roque said.

Interior Secretary Eduardo Año previously said San Juan and Valenzuela are among the Metro Manila cities that have shown a slowdown in the growth of COVID-19 cases. He, however, clarified that the government would have to look at the data on the confirmed cases before deciding on the quarantine restrictions.

Last Wednesday, the health department reported that the country is starting to flatten the COVID-19 curve. The agency, however, warned that a resurgence of cases may happen if people become complacent about social distancing.

Ready to reopen

House ways and means committee chairman Joey Salceda said the Philippines is ready to reopen and ease quarantine measures after May 15 while tackling the COVID-19 crisis.

Salceda said he has conducted several studies and found that lifting the two-month ECQ may now be a viable option.

“At this time, I am prepared to say that we are more ready for the consequences of a reopening even as we await a vaccine possibly in 2021 than for the impacts of another hard lockdown as we know it. Human behavior in our institutions and in the public has begun to be more prepared for the ups and downs of an epidemic,” he stressed in a statement.

The Albay representative, who initiated the earlier extensions of the ECQ from the original one-month period to two months, cited “evolving numbers, emerging scenarios and the national strategies and their implementation” as well as consultations with data scientists, chaos theorists and economists in coming up with his latest recommendation.

But before reopening the economy after May 15, Salceda said the national government needs to come up with a strategic plan to prevent a spike in COVID-19 cases.

He suggested that management of protocols and response be assigned to local government units – but not at the barangay level.

Salceda said the Department of Health (DOH) should likewise continue to increase testing, tracing and treatment. It should also make sure it achieves its target of 8,000 tests per day by May 15 and 30,000 per day by May 30.

“Lastly, we must all do our part – the low-cost non-pharmaceutical interventions: wash your hands, wear face masks, avoid crowds and maintain physical distancing even at home,” he said. “No part of the day’s activities should disproportionately expose anyone to the possibility of infection.”  

In preparation for the lifting of the ECQ by May 16, government offices have been directed to craft their own occupational safety and health program to protect their workers “from the dangers of injury, sickness or death and to prevent loss or damage of properties.”

The order is contained in Joint Memorandum Circular No. 1 Series of 2020 issued to government offices by the Civil Service Commission (CSC), DOH and the Department of Labor and Employment (DOLE).

Safety first

Sen. Sherwin Gatchalian said the safety and well being of workers require greater attention, especially now that the government is gearing up for the resumption of its Build, Build, Build flagship program.

“Our skilled workers are our country’s best assets. They are the backbone of the country’s strong and resilient economy. Aside from providing them jobs at this time, let’s not forget about their well-being and by issuing clear guidelines on a safe working environment, we will be able to ensure their safety,” he said.

The DOLE should issue such guidelines.

He also expressed alarm at seeing many idle workers who failed to get out of the metropolis to return to their respective provinces before the March 17 lockdown.

“I am calling the construction companies and contractors to take care of these workers,” he said.

Sen. Joel Villanueva, meanwhile, urged the government to continue its social support programs until after the transition to the so-called new normal.

“We also have to understand that economic resilience varies from person to person. Those living below the poverty line will always need a helping hand in these times. But the longer we impose the quarantine, more individuals will need financial and social assistance,” Villanueva said.

He said the government must also review the target beneficiaries and assist companies to prevent massive layoffs of workers.

“We must realize this and must be ready to provide assistance and review their target beneficiaries. We also see companies beginning to lay off workers. We must act immediately to provide support to these companies so that they can continue to employ their workers,” he noted.

Villanueva noted that the number of vulnerable in the population is expanding.

“We must be able to respond to their needs immediately. We reiterate that only the essential, valuable sectors in the economy with strong disease surveillance mechanisms should be allowed to reopen. This can provide employment to some and produce basic necessities while most of us are under quarantine,” he pointed out.

While the reopening of the economy is done in phases, Villanueva said the government must simultaneously ramp up the capacity of the healthcare system in anticipation of a rise in COVID-19 cases during the transition to the new normal.

“This potential rise is one of the risks that go with the reopening of the economy, and the only way we can mitigate this is to expand the capacity of our healthcare system. As we have seen in the past months, failing to prepare means preparing to fail,” he said.  – Cecille Suerte-Felipe, Elizabeth Marcelo

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