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Concepcion eyes ECQ as last one

Louella Desiderio - The Philippine Star
Concepcion eyes ECQ as last one
A police checkpoint on the border of Calumpit, Bulacan and Apalit, Pampanga that allows only authorized persons outside of their residence to pass through on Monday, Aug. 2, 2021. Stricter quarantine protocols are in place in the lead-up to Metro Manila lockdown on August 6.
The STAR / Michael Varcas, file

MANILA, Philippines — An adviser of President Duterte underscored yesterday that while this month’s two-week lockdown in the National Capital Region (NCR) is necessary to stop the spread of the Delta variant of COVID-19, it should be the last one.

Earlier, the government said the NCR’s return to enhanced community quarantine (ECQ) from Aug. 6 to 20 is a “circuit-breaker” to arrest the transmission of the more contagious Delta variant of COVID-19.

Addressing key government leaders, mayors and over 1,000 business owners at a virtual town hall meeting, presidential adviser for entrepreneurship and Go Negosyo founder Joey Concepcion said: “I hope this will be the end of the lockdown.”

Together with Metropolitan Manila Development Authority (MMDA) chairman Benhur Abalos, Concepcion said everyone has to act rapidly before the entire NCR gets swamped by rising cases of the Delta variant.

Concepcion said imposing the ECQ now should spare the economy from another lockdown in the fourth quarter of the year when businesses should thrive and recover.

“With aggressive rollouts, we’ll be able to vaccinate 50 percent of NCR population within the next month and hopefully achieve herd immunity by end of the year or early next year. That is why we have to continue to vaccinate a greater number of people and it should not stop, especially this ECQ,” Concepcion said.

“And for those who do not believe, we have to convince them. Let’s work on it,” he added.

Abalos gave assurance that local chief executives in Metro Manila are united in their efforts. “We vote as one in Metro Manila, and that is what carried us through,” he said.

Joining the discussion was visiting professor of biological sciences of University of Santo Tomas and professor of biology and of theology in Providence College Fr. Nicanor Austriaco, who also supported the NCR lockdown.

“As Secretary Joey has emphasized over and over again, in order for us to do this and uncouple infection, deaths and hospitalizations, what we need to build is herd immunity and we do this at every level of the society,” he said.

He said the reimposition of a lockdown in NCR may also be as effective as what happened in other countries.

“In Vietnam, their national government has implemented a hard lockdown of urban centers and their situation is working towards the better,” he said.

For his part, epidemiologist, senior technical adviser and head of Epimetrics Inc. Dr. John Wong identified five vital points to ensure citizens’ access to vaccines.

“We have to make sure that these intersect: availability, acceptability, accommodation, affordability and accessibility. These will make sure that efficient vaccination can truly lead to what we intend to happen in the NCR,” he said.

At the same event, DOH Epidemiology Bureau medical specialist Dr. Alethea de Guzman shared the data on the current situation in the NCR on COVID-19 cases.

“Pateros and Malabon are currently at critical risk, while 13 other cities are at high-risk level. Meanwhile, others left are on moderate risk level,” she said.

Inter-Agency Task Force for the Management of Emerging Infectious Diseases co-chair and Cabinet Secretary Karlo Nograles said any extension of ECQ in Metro Manila is based on many factors.

“It is based on the daily attack rate, two-week growth rate, hospital care utilization rate, quantity of ventilation and oxygen supply in the hospital, as well as other socio-economic considerations in the region,” he said.

Also present at the town hall meeting were MMDA general manager Jojo Garcia, Pasay City Mayor Imelda Calixto-Rubiano, Parañaque City Mayor Edwin Olivarez, Quezon City Mayor Joy Belmonte and Makati City Mayor Abby Binay.

Concepcion said he is hopeful the lessons to be learned during the ECQ would prevent any future lockdowns from happening.

Appeal for non-APOR

Meanwhile, Senators Panfilo Lacson and Aquilino Pimentel III asked the Philippine National Police (PNP) to reconsider its decision to prohibit non-APOR persons to ferry those in the APOR category during ECQ.

“The restrictions should not be imposed hastily to a point of being impractical if not illogical. Instead, they may want to exert a little extra effort to find a possible win-win solution,” Lacson, a former PNP chief, said.

He said there should be a way to satisfy both health concerns and “a little convenience for our APORs who need to work to feed their families, or render indispensable service to others, like health workers and other frontliners.”

In a separate statement, Pimentel said there are doctors and other medical personnel who render duty for four consecutive days and need to be driven to and from the workplace. “Why make life difficult for our frontliners?” he said.

The Commission on Human Rights (CHR) echoed the same sentiments, saying APORs should not be deprived of access to a safe way of commuting.

“Providing mobility to APORs, while ensuring their health and safety, must always be considered in implementing policies that restrict the movement of the general public,” CHR spokesperson Jacqueline de Guia said.

Gen. Guillermo Eleazar, PNP chief, said they decided to ban the practice as it has been abused by non-APOR persons who want to circumvent ECQ policies.

Eleazar, who used to head Joint Task Force COVID Shield, said police have encountered plenty of people excusing themselves from the policy to stay at home by claiming to have conveyed APOR persons to their workplaces or fetching them.

He said workers should either drive their own vehicles or use public transportation which is not prohibited during ECQ.

Interior and Local Government Secretary Eduardo Año said authorities would implement a stricter ECQ in Metro Manila compared to previous lockdowns to effectively prevent further transmissions of the Delta variant.

“Yes, this is stricter than past ECQs because of the threat of this Delta variant,” he said in an interview on dzBB, noting that checkpoints would enforce the guidelines.

Año noted that mayors have requested for the deployment of more police personnel in vaccination sites, ayuda (cash aid) distribution sites and borders to enforce the health protocols.

“There will be close coordination between the LGUs (local government units) and PNP during the ECQ implementation,” he added.

Humanitarian activities

Eleazar, however, said the PNP will not interfere with humanitarian activities by private individuals and groups during the ECQ for as long as these initiatives are coordinated with LGUs.

He told the Roundtable at Lido online news forum that while these activities are not prohibited, organizers should inform LGUs beforehand for proper distribution of aid.

Among these activities are community pantries which should have prior coordination with barangay officials.

The Philippine Red Cross (PRC) said it would be working overtime and doubling its efforts in performing testing and vaccination services during the two-week ECQ.

Citing reports from the Washington-based Center for Strategic and International Studies which said the country ranked second for the most number of COVID-19 cases in Southeast Asia, PRC chairman Sen. Richard Gordon said the PRC recognizes that its efforts against the Delta variant are crucial.

The PRC said about 5,000 COVID-19 jabs are ready for second dose vaccinations in its vaccination sites in Mandaluyong, Manila, Pasay, Quezon City and Tarlac.

Improve response

Vice President Leni Robredo on Wednesday urged the government to improve other pandemic response measures to avoid having to impose lockdowns in the future.

Saying a lockdown is only a stopgap measure against an increase in COVID-19 cases, Robredo said the implementation of ECQ will not be effective if the implementation of other measures remains the same.

“For example, our testing is only at 50,000 per day – It has to reach at least 120,000 in order for us to really identify the areas where we should focus on,” she said in Filipino.

“Our contact tracing is still confusing. There are so many (mobile applications) so we have a lot of database. We should unify that,” she added.

Robredo also stressed the need to prepare hospitals in case of a surge, citing the experience of COVID-19 hotspots earlier this year.

“We should help hospitals hire medical personnel. We have to make sure that they have access to medicine and oxygen and watch out for those who take advantage by increasing prices,” she added.

“Most importantly, the vaccination. It has to reach 750,000 per day so we can immediately reach herd immunity,” said the Vice President.

She also underscored the need to immediately provide support to those who will be affected by the imposition of strict quarantine measures. – Paolo Romero, Janvic Mateo, Romina Cabrera, Emmanuel Tupas, Neil Jayson Servallos

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