As the coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) tally remains volatile indicating that the infections have yet to peak, government officials indicated the likely rejection of the strong push from business groups for a modified quarantine and instead a two-week extension on isolating Luzon is now on the table.
Department of the Interior and Local Government Secretary Eduardo Año, after previously saying he was not keen on an extension as a prolonged lockdown would be detrimental to the economy, changed his tune and said lifting the enhanced community quarantine (ECQ) on 12 April will be premature.
Año expressed fear that terminating the lockdown after a month would lead to a “relapse” and put to waste all the government’s efforts.
He said it would be better to extend the ECQ until the number of COVID-19 infections had declined.
“As far as I am concerned, I think it’s better to continue the lockdown until we have flattened the curve so we will not have any relapse,” Año noted.
He said initial projections point to June or July as when the peak of the pandemic in the country will be reached, with the number of infections at 30,000.
“If we did not do the lockdown, the projection would be about 20,000 plus by now,” Año added.
Senators favor extension
At least three senators have expressed support for an extension.
Senators Christopher Lawrence “Bong” Go, Sonny Angara and Sherwin Gatchalian backed an ECQ extension of two more weeks.
“I am in favor of extending the Enhanced Community Quarantine for a few more weeks until the number of COVID-19 cases starts to substantially drop,” Go said in a text message to Daily Tribune.
The government’s capacity to conduct testing has increased and it would be best to extend the ECQ so we can effectively isolate the positive cases from the rest of the community and eventually get rid of the disease,” he added.
He has also reiterated the government’s appeal to the public to stay at home while the government is making sure that the poorest of the poor will receive the aid intended for them.
“Let me remind everyone that we are up against an invisible deadly enemy. Going out of your house remains dangerous at this time,” he said.
Go urged the concerned national agencies to fast-track the release of the cash aid to ensure that Filipinos will stay inside their houses while the government is curbing the spread of the disease.
“As a member of the Joint Oversight Committee overseeing the implementation of the Bayanihan to Heal as One Act, I urge all concerned agencies to perfect the distribution system on this first month of ECQ since we still do not know how long this crisis will last,” the senator indicated.
IATF meeting slated
As the ECQ on the main Philippine island entered its fourth week, the Inter-Agency Task Force on Emerging Infectious Disease (IATF-EID) will meet today to firm up a decision on the ECQ, according to Department of National Defense (DND) Secretary Delfin Lorenzana.
“The decision to whether or not extend the lockdown to contain the spread of the coronavirus disease 2019 will be arrived at in the next few days,” Lorenzana said.
According to him, IATF-EID will tackle the proposals on the fate of the ECQ and the body’s final decision will be announced “even before 12 April.”
Chief presidential Legal Counsel and spokesman Salvador Panelo said the emerging consensus “coming from medical experts, businessmen, government officials and other well-meaning individuals” is an extension of two weeks which is necessary “as lifting it could be premature as it might wipe out the gains we have so far achieved in containing the virus.”
Panelo said President Rodrigo Duterte is all eyes and ears on this unfolding reality and expert opinions.
“He is evaluating the best option to take that will effectively insure the success of our war against this wily and faceless global enemy. He will make his decision in due time,” Panelo explained.
The IATF imposed the ECQ throughout Luzon on 17 March as an attempt to contain the spread of the dreaded disease. It is set to lapse on 12 April, while the Metro Manila-wide lockdown will be lifted on 14 April.
COVID-19 has infected 332 more people in the country, the Department of Health (DoH) reported on Sunday, bringing the total number of the infected to 3,426.
DoH also reported the death of eight more patients, increasing the toll to 152.
Seven persons were able to recover from the highly contagious disease, to raise the number of those cured to 64.
“The trend right now, the increase of those testing positive is still quite high. What we wanted to attain is to flatten the curve. Once we see a decline in positive cases, then we could decide to already lift the lockdown,” Lorenzana, who also acts as the chairman for the National Action Plan (NAP) against COVID-19, said.
“Now, there have been suggestions, even Senator (Franklin) Drilon also recommended it, to extend it for two more weeks,” he added.
Business views considered
NAP chief implementer Secretary Carlito Galvez Jr. said should the ECQ be extended, “it may possibly only be for a maximum of 15 days.”
Lorenzana, however, clarified that the IATF will closely evaluate the situation and listen to other suggestions from other sectors such as the business community which was one of the hardest hit with the enforcement of the ECQ.
One such suggestion, Lorenzana cited, was that of Presidential Adviser on Entrepreneurship, Joey Concepcion, for government to instead lockdown barangays or localities with the most number of COVID-19 infections instead of the whole of Luzon to ensure the steady flow of commodities such as agricultural products.
“As for the others, social distancing must be maintained and precautionary measures to be observed such as the wearing of masks,” stated the DND chief.
Food producers first
“We want business to reopen, especially those in food manufacturing and other needs like medical supplies — but only with a reduced number of personnel. I can’t say with finality just yet. We still have a few more days to study it,” Lorenzana added.
Prodded to give an estimate on when the IATF is announcing its decision, Lorenzana said it could possibly happen “on Friday or Saturday.”
Cabinet Secretary Karlo Nograles said task force members have approved the parameters to be used to determine the lifting or extension of the ECQ. He said there is a need to fast-track the matter considering that the last day of the ECQ is just a mere a week away.
Nograles added the parameters being considered regarding ECQ include “trends in the COVID-19 epidemiological curve, which include, among others, the doubling time, acceleration or deceleration of new cases.”
Another parameter is the capacity of the health care system, “which includes, among others, the number and availability of quarantine, isolation, and treatment facilities; the capability to mount contact tracing; availability of Personal Protective Equipment to front liners, and the testing capacity of the country.”
The other parameters, Nograles said, are social factors, economic factors and security factors.
“So these five factors will be looked at in crafting a recommendation to President Duterte,” he said.
The Makati Business Club, on the other hand, has indicated a preference to a calibrated lifting of the coronavirus lockdown.
There could be “some relaxation” for businesses that can ensure the safety of their workers and communities from COVID-19, said MBC President Edgar Chua.
“It will be very gradual,” Chua said. Manufacturing and businesses process outsourcing or BPO could be allowed to open first, he added.
with Francis Wakefield
and Hananeel Bordey