‘Granular’ lockdown works

COMMONSENSE - Marichu A. Villanueva (The Philippine Star) - February 26, 2021 - 12:00am

In our Kapihan sa Manila Bay virtual news forum last Wednesday, Metropolitan Manila Development Authority (MMDA) chairman Benhur Abalos and Parañaque City Mayor Edwin Olivarez reaffirmed the “one policy for one implementation” stand of the 17 Mayors in the country’s national capital region (NCR). This “one policy for one implementation” applies on all matters and issues, the two of them declared, include the quarantine guidelines to control the spread of the deadly 2019 coronavirus disease (COVID-19) pandemic in the contiguous areas of the entire Metro Manila region.

The MMDA chairman and the Mayor of Parañaque City were the featured guests in our weekly Zoom Webinar of Kapihan sa Manila Bay news forum where they spoke in behalf of the rest of the 17 local government units (LGUs) at the NCR. Mayor Olivarez is the president of the Metro Manila Council (MMC) that serves as the policy-making body that meets every week and all the NCR Mayors sit as members. On the other hand, MMDA chairman Abalos sits as one of the members of the Inter-Agency Task Force on the Management of Emerging and Infectious Diseases (IATF-MEID).

As per Abalos and Olivarez, all the NCR Mayors conceded to the decision of President Rodrigo Duterte to retain the present quarantine status in the NCR and the rest of the country. This was two days after President Duterte shot down the majority vote of the NCR Mayors to relax the existing general community quarantine (GCQ) to modified GCQ as well as on the resumption of face-to-face classes in all public and private schools nationwide. Only last week, the NCR Mayors voted 9 against 8 in favor of MGCQ and submitted this to the IATF as their official recommendation as one body.

“Since this pandemic, we have this ‘one policy for one implementation.’ While we have debates, arguments, and we vote. At the end of the day, whatever is decided by the majority and whatever will enhance our approach to our pandemic response, we will do it,” Mayor Olivarez cited.

“This is the strength of Metro Manila, ‘one policy for one implementation.’ When we do not create one policy, the problem will only transfer from one city to another,” Mayor Olivarez explained. By way of a joke, the Mayor noted one can get to another city just riding in a taxi because the entire Metro Manila is inter-connected with each other.

The NCR Mayors are also divided in the middle almost the same on the issue of resuming face-to-face classes of students from kinder to high school. Ultimately, it was no less than President Duterte who shot it down for the second time. The Department of Education recommended this last year and revived last week their proposed “pilot-testing” of face-to-face classes in certain areas around the country where there is low or no more COVID-19 cases.

Upon approval of the IATF, the MMC earlier gave the green light for medical schools located in their respective LGUs to hold limited face-to-face classes. Abalos underscored the need to reopen the medical schools to prevent shortage of doctors, nurses and other health care workers who are most important frontliners in the battle against COVID-19 pandemic.

Abalos though echoed the confusion of the local chief executives at the NCR and other LGUs that are also under GCQ on the IATF guidelines on the age limits. In particular, MM Mayors could not reconcile why children are allowed outdoor activities like going to malls and cinemas but are still dis-allowed to have face-to-face classes.

Previously, the IATF announced it would allow certain businesses – movie theaters, gaming arcades, driving schools, social events, libraries, museums, and tourism attractions like parks, theme parks and historical sites – to resume their operations in areas under GCQ like Metro Manila. It also declared that 50-percent seating capacity would be allowed in churches and even cinemas.

Abalos noted though with satisfaction that the MM Mayors have worked well with each other in being able to control the spread of the COVID-19 pandemic when the NCR was the “hot spot” before of local transmissions last year. At the same Kapihan sa Manila Bay virtual news forum, the respective heads of the MMDA and the MMC noted with relief that the number of recorded COVID-19 active cases in Metro Manila have been “improving.”

The MMDA chief admitted concern though to the resurgence lately of COVID cases in the cities of Pasay and Navotas.

As of Wednesday evening, there were already 56 communities and 97 households in Pasay City were placed under localized community quarantine. Pasay City Mayor Imelda Calixto-Rubiano herself is currently on self-quarantine after contact with COVID-19 positive carrier. Navotas City Mayor Toby Tiangco admitted the rising numbers of active COVID-19 cases in the city rose from 33 last Feb. 6 to 209 as of yesterday.

Hence, Abalos and Olivarez underscored the need to sustain and continue enforcing health and safety protocols until the anti-COVID vaccines finally arrive in the Philippines.

Following the IATF’s guidelines, they invoke the authority to impose “granular lockdowns,” or area specific to impose stringent quarantine measures where there is resurgence of COVID-19 infection. As the head of the Regional Task Force of the IATF, Abalos allows Mayors, together with police and barangay officials, to enforce lockdowns on a particular house, street, or barangay that has seen a rise in COVID-19 cases.

Under “granular lockdown,” Mayor Olivarez explained, three or more active COVID-19 cases in each house, street or barangay would be immediately isolated. Individuals infected would be taken to COVID facility for isolation if asymptomatic, or to COVID-dedicated hospital for treatment.

Obviously, the “granular lockdowns” of LGUs are working well enough in controlling the spread of the COVID-19 contagion.

While the national government’s free vaccination has yet to roll out, we could only heed the President’s call for all of us to just pray for now.

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