âGovernment still in control of pandemicâ
According to Interior Secretary Eduardo Año, the move to place Metro Manila and the adjacent provinces of Laguna, Cavite, Rizal and Bulacan under modified enhanced community quarantine was made to stop the spread of the coronavirus disease.
‘Government still in control of pandemic’
Neil Jayson Servallos (The Philippine Star) - August 11, 2020 - 12:00am

MANILA, Philippines — The government claimed yesterday it has not lost control over the COVID-19 pandemic despite the country now leading Southeast Asia in number of cases, surpassing even China where the virus originated.

According to Interior Secretary Eduardo Año, the move to place Metro Manila and the adjacent provinces of Laguna, Cavite, Rizal and Bulacan under modified enhanced community quarantine (MECQ) was made to stop the spread of the coronavirus disease.

“We are still in control and we placed the National Capital Region and four provinces under MECQ because, of course, we know our hospitals are overwhelmed so we have to restrict the movement of people,” Año told ANC.

Pressured by calls of medical professionals to revert several areas to stricter lockdown with the continued rise of COVID-19 cases, President Duterte placed Metro Manila, Laguna, Cavite, Rizal and Bulacan under MECQ from Aug. 4 to 18.

To control cases, Año said the government needs to ramp up and improve its contact tracing within the two-week period, which is set to end next Tuesday, that would involve tracking up to 37 persons that a COVID patient had close contact with.

“Eventually we hope the numbers will improve and we always see the effect of an MECQ within incubation period of 14 days. It’s not just like magic that when we declare MECQ that everything is OK, we have to do a lot of efforts,” Año said.

The Department of the Interior and Local Government (DILG) said half of the virus patients in Metro Manila are in home quarantine, while 70 percent of Laguna’s cases are under self-isolation.

“Knowing the Filipino culture, we are very close with each other. Most of our citizens are violating home quarantine… some people would like to hide because they don’t want other people to know they’re positive – they may not be able to work,” Año said.

Año, also vice chairman of the National Task Force (NTF) against COVID-19, said the government would prioritize virus hotspots that needed lockdowns in house-to-house checks for people with symptoms.

“We have teams working with the local government units (LGUs). We encourage our LGUs down to the barangay to do their effort. While the numbers are still small, they should do those interventions,” Año said.

Under MECQ, territories were placed under increased police checkpoints in a bid to restrict residents from crossing borders.

Checkpoints were not only placed in the borders between regions and provinces, but also between cities and towns also under MECQ – which means citizens could no longer breach borders to avail themselves of goods and services.

MECQ, the second strictest lockdown level, bans mass transportation – except bicycles, motorcycles or e-scooters.

Some LGUs, however, allowed tricycles to continue operating, provided that the one-passenger policy would be enforced and only authorized persons outside residence would be allowed to board the vehicles.

The measure also limits the operations of certain industries, with manufacturing plants and other select establishments allowed to operate only at half capacity.

Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenza, chair of the NTF Against COVID-19, said aggressive contact tracing and the immediate isolation of asymptomatic and mild positive patients from their communities will be the key in preventing  further transmission.

“The biggest lesson we learned while making our rounds in Metro Manila is to do contact tracing and isolating positive cases from their communities,” Lorenzana said during a meeting with local officials in Pateros.

During the meeting, the NTF and Pateros officials exchanged best practices in containing the spread of the virus, while addressing perceived gaps in the national and local governments’ COVID-19 response efforts.

Pateros Mayor Miguel Ponce III thanked NTF officials for visiting the municipality and supporting the LGU’s interventions against the pandemic.

Senate Minority Leader Franklin Drilon disputed yesterday Malacañang’s claims that the rising number of COVID-19 cases was due to the increasing capacity of government to track cases.

He said such statements from Palace officials were wrong as the spread of the virus is worsening.

“Notwithstanding the harsh and longest lockdown in the region, sadly the government is not managing the contagion,” Drilon said.

He said based on data from the Department of Health, the country’s infection rate was worsening from 10 percent early in the outbreak meaning less than 10 percent of those tested were positive of COVID-19 it is now reaching 12 to 13 percent in the past two weeks.

“In other words, at the start of the outbreak, 10 of every 100 Pinoys tested are positive. Today, 12 to 13 out of every 100 tested are positive. Not only is the absolute number of cases increasing. the contamination rate is worsening,” Drilon said.

Mask at home

Año, who also urged families to practice physical distancing, wear face shields and masks at home, said the government has monitored a surge in areas under lockdown where COVID-19 patients have isolated themselves at home and infected family members.

Critics argued that the measure was impossible since many households, especially in densely populated Metro Manila, have an average of five occupants or more.

Since this was difficult to implement, considering that not all households have separate rooms in cramped houses, Año said families should wear face masks and face shields in their homes.

“It’s a big challenge but we need to think about how the transmission affects families – rich or poor – so we need to try our best. The most important thing here is if they really can’t practice (physical distancing at home) they should really wear a mask,” Año told GMA-7 yesterday.

The measure was especially important, he said, in households that have senior citizens.

Año added that it was important for families to distance themselves from members who head out for supply runs or work.

Many LGUs nationwide have also passed ordinances requiring the use of face masks in pubic places.

Government officials earlier said face shields were highly encouraged and could be required soon.

With the increase in the sale of face shields, the Philippine National Police (PNP) said it is monitoring any “artificial and unreasonable” manipulation of prices of face shields.

“If proven that there is indeed an artificial and unreasonable manipulation in the price and supply of face shields, appropriate action will be taken against the persons behind these criminal acts,” the PNP Anti-Cybercrime Group said in a statement yesterday.

Police said the Cybercrime Act would be used against perpetrators and urged consumers to call their mobile hotline (0998-598-8116) or visit their complaint platform (acg.pnp.gov.ph). — Jose Rodel Clapano, Paolo Romero

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