Palace says deciding on the fate of Metro Manila a 'gamble'
A policeman wearing a facemask stands guard at a checkpoint after the government imposed an enhanced quarantine as a preventive measure against the COVID-19 novel coronavirus in Manila on March 25, 2020.
AFP/Ted Aljibe

Palace says deciding on the fate of Metro Manila a 'gamble'

Alexis Romero (Philstar.com) - June 14, 2020 - 4:55pm

MANILA, Philippines — President Duterte is expected to announce on Monday his decision on the fate of Metro Manila, a product of what Malacañang called a "gamble" that required him to contain the coronavirus while promoting economic activity. 

Lockdown restrictions have been eased nationwide since June 1, with the government placing Metro Manila under the more lenient general community quarantine (GCQ) to gradually reopen the pandemic-battered economy.

Some sectors are hoping that Metro Manila — home to more than 12 million people and source of more than a third of the Philippines' gross domestic product — will shift to the most relaxed modified general community quarantine (MGCQ) on June 15 so more businesses can resume operations.

However, such hopes are being dashed by the continuous rise in the number of persons infected with the virus. The number of confirmed coronoavirus cases in the Philippines has breached 25,000, with more than 600 new infections reported last Saturday. Majority or more than 13,000 of the cases were recorded in Metro Manila.

"Based on the numbers in Metro Manila and Cebu, it seems that it is not yet appropriate to relax (the quarantine measures). But as I said earlier, it would be up to the president because he would balance the economy and the capacity to provide critical medical care to those who will get sick," presidential spokesman Harry Roque told radio station dzBB on Saturday.

"But it’s a gamble and we will just let [the president] make the decision," he added.

'Metro Manila likely to remain under GCQ'

Last Friday, Interior Secretary Eduardo Año said Metro Manila was likely to remain under GCQ because authorities continue to record fresh coronavirus cases. In a recent press briefing, Roque said quarantine measures in the capital region may be tightened anew if the number of infections continue to increase.

Reimposing stricter measures in Metro Manila would mean that the region would revert to the modified enhanced community quarantine (MECQ) or the strictest enhanced community quarantine (ECQ).

A return to MECQ would mean resuspending public transportation and reducing the number of businesses that can resume operations. If Metro Manila returns to ECQ, only essential sectors like food production and distribution and health care would be allowed to operate. There had been social media posts claiming that the nation's capital region will revert to ECQ starting June 15 but officials have denied issuing such advisory.

Under GCQ, some forms of public transportation are allowed and some establishments can reopen but they cannot operate in full capacity to ensure safe distancing. If the government decides to further ease restrictions in Metro Manila and place the region under MGCQ, some tourism activities would be allowed, more modes of transportation may resume operations and more people would be allowed to attend public gatherings.

"It (decision) requires a careful weighing of the effect on the economy and health," Roque said.

"We are at the point where we can't allow our countrymen to lose their livelihood. So we are preparing and determining whether we have the capacity to provide medical care to the sick. For now, we have that. But it does not mean we can set aside social distancing," he added.

Aside from Metro Manila, areas that have shifted to GCQ are Central Luzon, Calabarzon, and Central Visayas regions, the cities of Baguio, Iloilo, Zamboanga and Davao, and the provinces of Pangasinan and Albay.

Other parts of the country are now under MGCQ but local governments have been given the authority to impose lockdowns in areas with confirmed coronavirus cases.

GENERAL COMMUNITY QUARANTINE INTER-AGENCY TASK FORCE ON EMERGING INFECTIOUS DISEASES NOVEL CORONAVIRUS
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