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Palace sees spike in COVID-19 cases
The government allowed malls to partially reopen in areas that have shifted to modified enhanced community quarantine or MECQ the transition between the strictest enhanced community quarantine ECQ and the more lenient general community quarantine or GCQ.
Michael Varcas, file

Palace sees spike in COVID-19 cases

Alexis Romero (The Philippine Star) - May 19, 2020 - 12:00am

Cavite shuts down malls

MANILA, Philippines — Malacañang is expecting a spike in coronavirus disease 2019 or COVID-19 cases because of the failure of some people to observe physical distancing in malls over the weekend.

The government allowed malls to partially reopen in areas that have shifted to modified enhanced community quarantine or MECQ – the transition between the strictest enhanced community quarantine ECQ and the more lenient general community quarantine or GCQ.

Areas that have been under MECQ since May 16 are Metro Manila, Laguna, Bataan, Bulacan, Nueva Ecija, Pampanga, Zambales and Angeles City.

Officials were alarmed over reports that health protocols particularly physical distancing were ignored as large crowds trooped to malls during the first day of MECQ.

“After Saturday, I am sure we will see a steep increase because we disregarded social distancing and other health protocols,” presidential spokesman Harry Roque Jr. said at a press briefing yesterday. “If many of us remain stubborn, many would catch COVID-19. We will be like other countries which saw an increase in COVID-19 cases after relaxing restrictions
because people did not comply with health standards.”

Health Undersecretary Maria Rosario Vergeire also reiterated the government’s call for people to continue staying inside the safety of their homes.

“We understand that many people have been looking forward to going back to their old lives. We want to remind everyone that World War C is not yet over. We are only at the beginning of our long battle against COVID-19,” Vergeire stressed.

She said easing up the ECQ was not intended to encourage people to go to malls, noting that the confirmed COVID-19 cases had reached 12,718 with 205 new cases recorded yesterday.

Of the new cases, 145 came from the National Capital Region, eight from Region 7 and 52 from other regions.

Seven new fatalities were also recorded yesterday, bringing the death toll to 831.

Roque reminded malls to comply with health protocols and ensure safe physical distancing or face closure or legal action.

“There would be criminal liability if they do not exert or if they do not fulfill the obligations that they are supposed to do. There should be enough employees, security personnel who will enforce these guidelines otherwise they would face closure. To the malls that cannot follow social distancing and crowd control, it’s easy. You should be closed again,” he said.

Mall managers, he added, should ensure that there is a two-meter distance among people and require the wearing of face masks at all times.

But Trade Secretary Ramon Lopez said Saturday’s mall crowd was only 20 percent of the average number of mall goers prior to the imposition of ECQ.

“We personally checked some malls that are usually filled with people on Sunday afternoon, and we saw that those who went were not as many. We did a quick survey, the crowd is only about 20 percent of what a typical Sunday is pre-COVID times,” he noted.

Lopez also disclosed that only 20 percent of the stores inside malls have opened their businesses, which include the supermarkets and drugstores as well as the food shops and restaurants that were allowed to accept take-out and delivery orders.

Roque said the government is working to avoid a second wave of the pandemic because the Philippines has limited capacity in hospitals, which might be overwhelmed if the country experiences a huge increase in infections.

Metro Manila only has 13,457 in total bed capacity, 9,468 isolation bed capacity, 1,963 ventilators, 1,303 intensive care unit beds, and 2,686 ward beds.

“If we remain stubborn and we continue to troop to public places, the cases will double... and the case doubling time will be shorter... Perhaps in one or two weeks, we will run out of beds and other patients will have to stay on the road,” Roque said.

He added that areas where quarantine restrictions have been eased may be placed again under ECQ if the number of infections increases.

“If the cases increase and we cannot provide critical care to the sick... everyone would return to ECQ... If you don’t want that, let us limit our movement outside our houses,” he added.

Despite the problems encountered last Saturday, Malacañang believes it was not wrong to relax quarantine restrictions in some areas to gradually reopen the economy.

“We need to ensure the livelihood (of our people) so we are reopening our economy. It was not done for malling,” Roque said. “It is scientific and economic (decision). We consider all these in the decisions made by the IATF. The decision was made that there was a five-day doubling rate and that we have capacity as of now to provide critical care and medical attention to the sick... as of now. But our assumption is our countrymen would extend full cooperation,” he explained.

Yesterday, Cavite Gov. Janvic Remulla ordered the temporary closure of all of the province’s mall establishments, including supermarkets and drugstores, until the social distancing measures can be enforced.

He apologized to the public, saying this is just a temporary measure needed to iron out the social distancing protocols. Sheila Crisostomo, Delon Porcalla, Romina Cabrera

COVID-19 GCQ MECQ
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