'Almost back to zero': Duterte reverts 6 provinces to GCQ, MECQ

'Almost back to zero': Duterte reverts 6 provinces to GCQ, MECQ
Bumper-to-bumper traffic along Marcos Highway at the boundary of Marikina and Antipolo cities in Rizal as police flag down motorists on the first day of the reimplementation of enhanced community quarantine in Metro Manila and nearby provinces on Monday, March 29, 2021.
The STAR / Boy Santos

MANILA, Philippines — Aside from the "NCR Plus" bubble, several provinces in the country will return to stricter quarantine status in April, President Rodrigo Duterte announced on Monday with an admission that the Philippines is almost "back to zero" in its pandemic response. 

The pronouncement comes as the country continues to struggle in containing the surge in new coronavirus cases. The last three days saw officials reporting over 9,000 additional infections, and a new record-high 10,016 on March 29.

Metro Manila, Cavite, Laguna, Rizal and Bulacan returned to ECQ on Monday, and will remain so until April 4, subject to further review. 

Quirino Province will revert to Modified ECQ, a slightly less stringent classification than ECQ, from April 1 to 15, while Santiago City in Isabela will be under MECQ for the entire month. 

Further, the entire Cordillera Administrative Region, Cagayan, Isabela and Nueva Vizcaya will once again be under General Community Quarantine. Last month, only the provinces of Apayao, Kalinga and Mountain Province in CAR were under GCQ, but will now include Abra, Benguet and Ifugao.

Cities of Tacloban in Leyte, Iligan in Lanao del Norte, Davao in Davao del Sur, as well as the provinces of Batangas and Lanao del Sur, will also still be in GCQ next month, as is in March. 

The rest of the country will be under modified GCQ, or the government's lowest quarantine classification.

Duterte in his weekly address said he has found himself "grappling with the issue" of COVID-19 that has infected over 731,000 and killed more than 13,000 Filipinos to date.

In reading the list of areas in new quarantine status, he commented that it was as if the country is in its standing last year when the pandemic hit.

"Kagaya 'yan sa una," said the President, whose administration has come under fire for its pandemic response. "Halos back to zero tayo."

(This is like before. We're almost back to zero.)

In a briefing earlier today, DOH Undersecretary Maria Rosario Vergeire said active cases in the Philippines — currently at 115,495 — could hit 430,000 by the end of April if ECQ was not ordered in the said areas.
The supposedly week-long restriction in movement would also give time to address issues on tracing and testing efforts, she added.

Despite this, the health department shunned anew calls for mass testing. The agency said "risk-based" screening will instead take place, where local governments are tasked to look for active cases through house visits.

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Vergeire said too that the surge is taking a huge toll on hospitals, with healthcare utilization rates already at 63% in Metro Manila and 58% in CALABARZON.

Aid for affected

Completing the Philippines' circling back to the hard lockdown is government's financial aid to individuals whose work may be affected by the curbs.

Budget Secretary Wendel Avisado in the coronavirus task force meeting said 22.9 million poor Filipinos in NCR Plus are eyed to receive the assistance of P1,000 per individual, or not more than P4,000 per family.

Funding source for at least P23 billion, he said, would come from balace from the Bureau of Treasury from credited sources under the Bayanihan 2 law.

The assistance, however, will be in-kind "to ensure that food and non-food requirements are adequately provided." Avisado said the DBM will release the funds directly to local governments, which will handle the distribution.

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