Metro mayors to meet on quarantine options
Parañaque City Mayor Edwin Olivarez said yesterday that Metro Manila mayors are leaning toward another 15-day extension of the ECQ.
STAR/ File

Metro mayors to meet on quarantine options

Ralph Edwin Villanueva (The Philippine Star) - May 9, 2020 - 12:00am

MANILA, Philippines — Metro Manila mayors will meet again today via video conference to finalize details on what to recommend to authorities – whether to extend or downgrade the enhanced community quarantine (ECQ) in the metropolis to curb the spread of coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19).?

Parañaque City Mayor Edwin Olivarez said yesterday that Metro Manila mayors are leaning toward another 15-day extension of the ECQ.

Olivarez, concurrent chairman of the Metro Manila Council (MMC) composed of 17 mayors, said some of them are pushing for extension while others are asking for an easing of the lockdown and downgrade into general community quarantine (GCQ) status.

He said the MMC meeting hopes to come up with a recommendation to the Inter-Agency Task Force (IATF) for the Management of Emerging Infectious Diseases, which would make the final decision.

Under GCQ, some forms of mass transport and establishments would be allowed to resume operations, but at reduced capacity.

Several areas in the country have been placed under GCQ.

Olivarez said some mayors also favor a metro-wide ECQ extension since the cities and the municipality of Pateros in the metropolis are interconnected.

“We are afraid of the second wave (of the virus) and our momentum has been great so far,” Olivarez said.?Quezon City, Manila, Parañaque and Makati are among the cities with high number of positive COVID-19 cases.

Health officials earlier reported that San Juan and Valenzuela City are among Metro Manila cities that have shown a slowing down of COVID cases.?Despite this, Olivarez said in the interview that the mayors’ stand would be unified.?He said it would be impossible to implement anything if one city is under the more relaxed GCQ and other cities would still be under ECQ.

“We cannot have one city under ECQ, while another is under GCQ. That would be complicated. If there is an ECQ, every city should be placed under ECQ,” Olivarez said.?The final decision, however, rests solely with the IATF as the MMC is merely a recommendatory body, he emphasized.

Experts’ warning

Various experts have warned the people against premature lifting of the ECQ in high-risk areas such as Metro Manila without safeguards in place to prevent further transmission of COVID-19.

Guido David, mathematics professor at the University of the Philippines, said their latest models show a possible increase of COVID-19 cases to 24,000 in Metro Manila alone if the ECQ is lifted on May 15.

“If we continue the ECQ and if it improves somewhat, total number of cases in NCR (National Capital Region) would be around 11,000 cases by June 15 – 11,000 with around 800 deaths,” he told The Chiefs aired over Cignal TV’s One News on Thursday night.

Currently, there are almost 6,000 confirmed COVID cases in the metropolis.

Political science professor Ranjit Rye stressed the need to look at specific areas given the archipelagic nature of the Philippines.

While there are some places where the spread of cases appears to have been contained, Rye noted the continuing increase in some cities such as those in Metro Manila, Calabarzon and Cebu.

“We caution the government with regards to relaxing the ECQ in the areas that are now under ECQ without adequate data and safeguards in place,” he said, highlighting the need for massive randomized testing and contact tracing.

“Those that are successful in managing this pandemic took testing, tracing and supportive isolation very seriously. That’s a very big problem in the Philippines,” he added.

Rye said it would be catastrophic to open some cities prematurely, especially as the guidelines being set by the government for a relaxed quarantine setup are still a work in progress.

“Our basic argument is that it’s too early to relax the ECQ. We need time to roll out these safeguards, we need time to do mass testing, we need time as researchers get the data,” he said.

Epidemiologist Troy Gepte echoed the position of the academics, citing the increasing trend in some cities.

He said a partial lifting of ECQ in some cities especially in Metro Manila might not be practical unless there is a system that would monitor movement of people.

Gepte also stressed the need to look into the data down to the barangay level to contain the spread of the disease.

“We’re trying to deal with cases as they come to the health facilities or the hospitals. We’ve always thought of the frontline being in the hospitals, but our actual frontline is among the public health responders down to the level of barangay,” he said.

“We are not detecting enough cases in the community, what we call the asymptomatic (cases). This may be the driving force of the epidemic,” he added.

Gepte said the country has yet to maximize the use of technology to conduct contact tracing.

“With technology, we hope that we’d be able to trace them early so we can somehow outpace the virus. If we detect them early, we can see how we can prevent its spread,” he added.

The Senate has postponed its committee hearings next week until new guidelines are issued with the expected lifting of ECQ on May 15.

The Senate, acting as the committee of the whole, was scheduled to hold a series of hearings on the COVID-19 crisis starting Monday with the aim of coming up with legislation to help the battered economy get back on its feet.

“The executive department requested for a postponement because they will be very busy in the next few days to convene and present to the President the updates and reports for the President’s decision before the 15th (of May),” Senate President Vicente Sotto III told reporters on Thursday.

Senate Majority Leader Juan Miguel Zubiri said Executive Secretary Salvador Medialdea had called Sotto and pleaded that “we move our meeting with them by a week.”

He said IATF officials and most department heads “are super busy over this weekend preparing and giving reports” for President Duterte, who he said is expected to make an announcement on May 13 regarding the ECQ.

Emergency quarantine

The Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) engineering units have completed construction of 29 emergency quarantine facilities in Luzon and other regions.

The facilities were built through the efforts of the Office of the Chief Engineer headed by Maj. Gen. William Ilagan in partnership with the WTA Architecture and Design group, San Miguel Foundation and other donors.

The AFP said each quarantine facility was built by 20 soldiers within five to six days using power tools and around four truckloads of materials.

Some of the quarantine facilities are located at the Manila Naval Hospital, GHQ Dispensary, CGEA, QC, Phil Air Force Hospital, Pasay City, Fernando Air Base, Batangas, Cavite Naval Hospital, Army General Hospital, V. Luna General Hospital and Libingan ng mga Bayani, Taguig City with four of the sites completed by soldiers from various Army, Air Force and Navy engineering units.

The other faciities are now at the Quezon City General Hospital; Ospital ng Muntinlupa, Muntinlupa City; Bulacan Medical Center, Malolos; Sacred Heart Hospital, Bulacan; Caloocan City Medical Center; La Consolation University General Hospital, Bulacan; Sta. Ana General Hospital, Manila; Emmanuel Hospital, San Miguel, Bulacan; and Baliuag District Hospital, Bulacan.

The other projects were constructed at the Eastern Mindanao Command Hospital in Davao City, Central Command Hospital in Cebu City, Western Mindanao Command Hospital in Zamboanga City and Western Command Hospital in Palawan.

The facilities are designed for hospitals and institutions that are at maximum capacity to provide proper facility for patients who need to be quarantined.

The AFP said the temporary structures are meant to increase the capacity of hospitals and house patients suspected with COVID-19 to keep them from spreading the infection.-  Janvic Mateo, Paolo Romero, Michael Punongbayan, Ghio Ong

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