Galvez: Localized lockdowns, quarantine measures 'the way forward'
Police Crisis Response Battalion personnel patrol a street in Barangay Mabolo in Cebu City on June 19, 2020.
Aldo Banayhal/ The Freeman

Galvez: Localized lockdowns, quarantine measures 'the way forward'

Alexis Romero (Philstar.com) - August 18, 2020 - 7:21pm

MANILA, Philippines — The enforcement of lockdowns and other pandemic-related measures at the local level is the "way forward" as imposing quarantine restrictions across entire regions may harm the economy and disrupt workers' livelihood, officials said Monday.

President Rodrigo Duterte agreed to ease lockdown measures in Metro Manila, Bulacan, Cavite, Laguna, and Rizal to promote economic activity and to allow employees to return to work.

The capital region and the four nearby provinces, which contribute about two thirds of the Philippines' economic output, will be downgraded to the lenient general community quarantine (GCQ) from modified enhanced community quarantine (MECQ) starting Wednesday, August 18, until the end of the month.

Experts had recommended extending the partial lockdown for two weeks but officials said the government no longer has funds to help poor households and workers that that would affect.

Carlito Galvez, Jr., chief implementer of the national policy on coronavirus disease, said placing regions under MECQ or partial lockdowns would have a huge impact on people's livelihoods.

“We think that MECQ is not a sustainable strategy," Galvez said at a press briefing.

“The way forward is granular implementation of the lockdown because if we are under MECQ, the collateral (damage) in the livelihood of our people would be huge," he added.

Under MECQ, only public transportation is prohibited and only selected businesses can operate. Public gatherings are also restricted. More businesses can open shops and public transportation can resume operations once an area is downgraded to GCQ.

Galvez made a similar statement in May, saying then that lockdowns could be on the barangay level. "Our way forward is we will localize the national action plan through the LGUs (local government units). This is being done by (Interior and Local Government Secretary Eduardo) Año. He is talking to all LGUs," he told Duterte in a televised meeting on May 19.

READ: Task force eyes localized barangay-wide lockdowns vs COVID-19

Galvez said the government was able to strengthen its pandemic response while Metro Manila and the four nearby provinces were under the two-week partial lockdown. He said local officials should have a greater role in implementing quarantine measures because they know the situation in their respective areas.

"If we will empower our LGUs (local government units), since they are the leaders in their area, they are the generals of the battle front, if they lead the battle... the response would be easier to implement. The way forward really is the localization of the implementation of the National Action Plan," he said.

Galvez said mayors have been asking for autonomy in making decisions about precautionary measures because of the varying situations in each area.

"At the same time, they know what areas have spikes (in cases). So they are asking for a dialogue between the business sector and the LGU so that during the opening of our economy, they know what would happen," he said.

Presidential spokesman Harry Roque said agencies were able to increase the country's bed capacities and health personnel during the two-week timeout. He said experts agree that the lockdown measures in Metro Manila and the four nearby provinces can be relaxed as long as health measures are strictly observed.

"We can continue with our livelihood but of course the view of economic managers was also considered. They pointed out the 16.5 percent (economic) contraction and the allegedly 40 percent plus unemployment. We really need to provide our people livelihood opportunities," Roque said.

'Put the people first'

Speaking during the meeting of the government's pandemic task force on Monday night, Duterte urged employers to conduct free coronavirus testing for their workers, especially those who are vulnerable to the virus.
"It could be a private or public establishment or area. But the employers are highly encouraged to send their employees for testing at no cost to the employees," Duterte said.
But he clarified that real-time reverse transcription polymerase chain reaction (RT-PCR) test is not required for employees with no coronavirus disease symptoms.

The president said the government must put a premium on the health of workers by conducting tests.

“We will prioritize our people. If we disappear, the Philippines would still be there. But if the people disappear, the Philippines would also disappear," he added.

Localized strategies

The Inter-Agency Task Force for the Management of Emerging Infectious Diseases has also directed local governments to strictly implement measures aimed at containing the virus.

The task force, through Resolution No. 64, called on local governments to undertake the following:

  • Implementation of localized community quarantine in identified component cities, municipalities, and barangays with community transmission
  • Minimum public health standards, especially in high-risk areas like healthcare settings, wet markets, supermarkets, government offices, workplaces, public transportation, and areas with increased economic activity
  • Active surveillance and case finding.
  • Immediate facility-based quarantine of all suspect and probable cases, and all returning citizens and foreign nationals
  • Immediate facility-based isolation of identified symptomatic close contacts within three days from time of onset of symptoms
  • Ensure availability or scaling up of quarantine facilities in priority or critical areas, even down to the level of the barangay, including private and public establishments and workplaces
  • Scale up local health system capacity, especially critical care, including dedicated mechanical ventilators, intensive care units, isolation, and ward beds for
  • coronavirus cases in local government hospitals and health facilities; and
  • Submission of complete and accurate data through COVID-Kaya and the health department's DataCollect.

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