Market goers at Brgy. Quirino 3A in Project 3, Quezon City observes social distancing in this photo taken March 22, 2020.
The STAR/Michael Varcas
Business leaders, former health chiefs support Metro Manila shift to GCQ
Bella Perez-Rubio ( - May 29, 2020 - 5:58pm

MANILA, Philippines — Influential business leaders and former health secretaries on Friday backed President Rodrigo Duterte’s decision to place Metro Manila under a more relaxed general community quarantine (GCQ) starting June 1. 

Presidential Adviser for Entrepreneurship Joey Concepcion, Chairman and CEO of Ayala Corporation Jaime Augusto Zobel de Ayala, former Health Secretaries Dr. Esperanza Cabral and Rep. Janette Garin and Rep. Sharon Garin all voiced their support for Duterte’s decision in a statement released Friday. 

During Go Negosyo’s Balik-Kabuhayan webinar series Friday, former Health Secretary Garin said: “If we don’t reopen, we might be able to prevent a few cases of COVID, but then we will have more of non-COVID illnesses…Reopening the economy actually means taking care of public health.”

“It is a balancing act between the need for the economy to come back to life. It is a period of zero income and there’s only so much that can last without massive economic support from the government,” Zobel de Ayala said. 

He also emphasized the role of the private sector in partnering with the government to combat the COVID-19 crisis.

Cabral, another former health chief, added: “We are as ready as we can be to open business again. We have had 2 months to prepare, I mean the healthcare system. And if we have not prepared over the last months, we will never be prepared.” 

UP researchers caution against ‘premature' GCQ 

Researchers from the University of the Philippines diverge from this opinion and actually warned against what they called a premature shift to GCQ in Metro Manila. 

In their forecast report released Thursday, they said: "We further caution the government on the premature relaxation of the MECQ without substantial data and without the minimum health safeguards in place in affected areas regardless of the historical number of cases.”

While researchers lauded the government for improving the testing capacity to an estimate of 32,000 a day, they said many more had to be done since opening up MECQ areas would expose more people to the risk of catching COVID-19.

They also called for the government to make the turnaround time on tests shorter, which would mean accrediting more laboratories, training more people to conduct the tests and ensuring lab supplies are always available.

The forecast report reiterated the need for better contact tracing, a recommendation that the researchers also made earlier in May. The World Health Organization recently pointed out the sluggish rate of contact tracing in the country.

“If quarantine decisions are solely based on disease transmission and other epidemiological risk factors, then based on the available data, we recommend that the national government continue the MECQ in NCR and consider the same in other high-risk areas,” UP researchers said. 

As of Thursday afternoon, DOH reported 15,558 COVID-19 cases — the biggest rise in a single day since March 31 — and a death toll of 921 in the country. Sixty-one percent of these new cases were from Metro Manila. 

But during the press briefing Friday, the Health department said that only 109 were "fresh cases" out of the 539 infections reported Thursday.

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