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‘Stay at home’

The family is our first defense against this pandemic.

MJ Blancaflor

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Photograph by Alfonso Padilla for the daily tribune @tribunephl_al PASIG City worker prepares his spray gun to disinfect a neighborhood following President Rodrigo Duterte’s extension of the Luzon-wide lockdown.

Around 600,000 to 1.4 million individuals might be infected with the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) in the country, with 80 percent of them from Metro Manila, data scientists from the University of the Philippines (UP) said.

The projection of the UP COVID-19 Pandemic Response Team includes possible asymptomatic individuals and unreported cases, adding that the high estimate for Metro Manila is mainly due to the high population size and density of the region.

Data scientists also projected an epidemic peak between April to June based on mathematical simulations.

Their estimate is based on a reproduction rate between 1.5 to 4, which is the average number of people that will be directly infected by a COVID-19 positive person in a susceptible population, the team said in its report published in UP’s website.

As of 7 April, the Philippines has recorded 3,764 COVID-19 cases with 177 fatalities.

“As the government and the public implement interventions, the peak might shift to a later date and may also be flattened,” the report read.

Peaks in the provinces might not happen at the same time and the UP report noted that mobility should be monitored and regulated to contain the virus spread.

The UP pandemic team also emphasized the need for community collaboration to fight the deadly virus, which has infected more than one million people across the globe.

Extending the community quarantine was also seen to further “shift the peak” of the epidemic to buy more time to prepare.

This as the Inter-Agency Task Force for the Management of Emerging Infectious Diseases (IATF-MEID) on Tuesday disclosed President Rodrigo Duterte’s approval to extend the Luzon-wide enhanced community quarantine (ECQ) up to 30 April.

This was announced by Cabinet Secretary Karlo Nograles hours after President Duterte went on a taped broadcast late Monday night, while the IATF-MEID spokesman stressed the need to prolong the lockdown to give experts enough time to formulate the government’s response to the killer virus.

“The extension was recommended by the IATF to the President. After his announcement, we needed to verify his reply and that was it, the ECQ is extended until 11:59 p.m. of 30 April,” Nograles said.

The Luzon-wide ECQ is supposed to end on Sunday.

He appealed to the communities to follow the quarantine order as the country deals with the local spread of the global pandemic which has so far infected more than a million people around the world.

“The family is our first defense against this pandemic,” Nograles said soon after the approval of IATF Resolution 20 which recommended the extension of the ECQ to the Chief Executive.

“All exemptions granted by the Office of the President or the IATF shall continue to be in effect for the duration of the extended ECQ; provided further that such extension of the ECQ shall be without prejudice to the discretion of the President to relax the implementation of the ECQ in some local jurisdictions, or the granting of exemptions in favor of certain sectors, as public health considerations and food security may warrant.”

The President said the solution to the pandemic is by “staying home.”

National Task Force against COVID-19 Chief Implementer Carlito G. Galvez Jr. earlier noted that the Luzon-wide ECQ has largely contributed in slowing down and preventing the spread of COVID-19.

The President also appealed for patience from families and businesses affected by the quarantine while they wait for government’s cash assistance.

Before declaring the extension, Mr. Duterte clarified that the nearly P300 billion granted by Congress to fund the President’s Emergency Powers against the pandemic will not suffice to fund the government’s amelioration program for the affected citizens.

Restive labor, however, said this stance by the President is aimed at justifying the delay and inequity in the distribution of cash aid to poor families.

“The President had earlier said that there is enough money to support the country’s fight against the COVID-19,” Partido ng Manggagawa chairman Renato Magtubo said. “It was Mr. Duterte who sought Emergency Powers from Congress to be able to use these funds. This is not about the lack of money that he has, but the proper use of these funds and the ease of its delivery to the affected families.”

The labor group said the 2020 national budget can accommodate “a more universal than a targeted cash aid distribution system.” It added that the P200 billion intended for social amelioration is only 4.87 percent of the P4.1 trillion national budget.

Defend Jobs Philippines, meanwhile, said the Department of Labor and Employment’s (DoLE) COVID-19 Assistance Measures Program (CAMP) targets only a small number of affected workers.

The President’s report to the Joint Congressional Oversight Committee on Monday discussed the DoLE’s “target by the end of the ECQ is to extend assistance to 115,835 workers” as of 3 April.”

It added that DoLE’s CAMP “has provided assistance to 88,388 workers from 6,923 establishments nationwide…valued at P441.940 Million.”

The group insisted that that there are still 27,447 slots left for their beneficiaries.

“The sudden ‘quota’ of the CAMP defeats the purpose of its own Department Order and program of assisting all workers who were affected by flexible work arrangements and temporary shutdowns due to the ECQ and the COVID-19 pandemic,” Thadeus Ifurung, Defend Jobs Philippines spokesman, said.

Defend Jobs Philippines also questioned Labor Secretary Bello’s estimate of around “1.8M workers affected by the COVID-19.” The group called Bello’s number as “conservative and unrealistic to the actual figures of around 11 million formal and informal workers affected in Luzon alone, according to the data of IBON Foundation.

Majority of affected workers belong to the construction industry (2.4M), wholesale and retail (2.4M), transport and storage (1.5M), accommodation and food (891,000) and other service jobs (832,000).

Senate President Vicente Sotto III and Senator Panfilo Lacson, meanwhile, said the government has enough funds to finance its COVID-19 response as the available money from the 2020 General Appropriations Act (GAA) has yet to be utilized.

“Budget is no concern or a problem at all,” Sotto said. “The President knows that. The government can solve the need for funds.”

Lacson also said the Cabinet Secretaries have assured Congress that grants from the Asian Development Bank (ADB) and a loan from the World Bank were available even before the lawmakers granted President Duterte with Special Powers to deal with the pandemic.

“Finance Secretary Carlos Dominguez III informed us about the $100 million ADB grant and a stand-by loan from the World Bank, aside from the P275-billion fund from untapped and unused GOCC (Government-Owned and Controlled Corporations),” Lacson said.

“Plus, the unused appropriations from several agencies, which Department of Budget and Management (DBM) Wendel Avisado said of about P600 billion. That’s from last year’s GAA,” Lacson added.

Senate Minority Leader Franklin Drilon, meanwhile, called on the government to “sacrifice some infrastructure projects — even flagship infra projects — to generate more funds for the COVID-19 response activities.

“Tough times call for tough decisions. We are now seeing the far-reaching effects of the COVID-19. It is not only the poorest who are affected, but also the middle class, as well as small business owners. Sadly, the government’s wallet is depleting as the rest of the Filipino people,” Drilon said.

“It is a question of government fiscal position. Perhaps our financial managers would be able to free up some funds that would be utilized for the intended purpose and realign them for the amelioration programs,” he added.

In a related development, the Department of the Interior and Local Government disclosed the President’s approval to release P30.824 billion “Bayanihan Grant to Cities and Municipalities” to boost local government units’ (LGU) capacity to respond to their constituents’ needs amid the pandemic.

Senator Christopher Lawrence “Bong” Go proposed the measure on behalf of the LGU.

with Francis T. Wakefield and
Hananeel Bordey @tribunephl_FTW
and @tribunephl_hana

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