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COVID-19 WATCH

GCQ for Metro nearly a done deal

Presidential spokesman Secretary Harry Roque said the virus remains “out there” and that anyone can get infected whatever the quarantine level may be, especially in the absence of a vaccine against it.

Francis Wakefield

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Malacañang on Thursday said that Metro Manila is ready to transition this 01 June from the modified enhanced community quarantine (MECQ) to a more relaxed general community quarantine (GCQ).

The Palace made the observation based on the data which the Inter-Agency Task Force for the Management of Emerging Infectious Diseases (IATF-EID) has gathered as a basis for its recommendation on the downgrading of the quarantine level.

In a virtual press briefing, Presidential spokesperson Secretary Harry Roque, however, urged the public to wait for President Rodrigo Duterte’s announcement later in the day.

Roque urged the public not to easily believe a “leaked” recommendation purportedly coming from the Inter-Agency Task Force on the Management of Emerging Infectious Diseases (IATF-MEID).

Still, he hinted that GCQ may well be what the President will announce as he said that how long the metropolis will stay under GCQ will depend on the cooperation of people to stem the spread of coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19).

“Well, NCR is ready from the data that we have seen. But it really depends on the cooperation of everyone,” Roque said.

He said that from GCQ, any areas in the country may revert to the stricter ECQ if the cases would double fast, thus the cooperation of all on protocols like social-distancing is a must.

Roque said the virus remains “out there” and that anyone can get infected whatever the quarantine level may be, especially in the absence of a vaccine against it.

All of the mayors in Metro Manila cities and the lone municipality of Pateros had agreed to recommend to the IATF-MEID the downgrading to GCQ of the quarantine level.

On the leaked document purportedly showing the IATF has recommended that Metro Manila be put under GCQ, Roque asked the public not to easily believe it as the President will make the decision and the announcement.

“Let’s just wait for the President’s announcement,” he said.

According to the leaked document, Metro Manila will be under GCQ, but that all identified high-risk barangays within it shall be subject to a “zoning concept” to be implemented by a National Task Force on COVID-19.

The document also said Cebu City, being a high-risk highly urbanized city will be placed under MECQ until 15 June 2020, “without prejudice to the declaration of localized ECQ in critical areas.”

Roque said if ever Metro Manila shifts to GCQ, there will be a big change particularly in the number of work to be allowed and also on the transportation side.

“Yes, well fortunately there are other areas who have been in GCQ so we know already what’s going to happen,” he said. “There will be 10 to 50 percent capacity of public transportation.”

“So, we are appealing in fact to both the private and the public sector to ensure at least a 50-50 workforce. It doesn’t mean that work stops because I think by now we are used to working at home,” he said.
Under GCQ, people are allowed to move around for work, with more industries and establishments allowed to operate. Public transportation is allowed but with the enforcement of health protocols.

Inter-island travel is also allowed between GCQ areas, with safety protocols enforced. There will also be alternative work arrangements like a four-day workweek.

Roque earlier said that the IATF will consider science, the doubling rate of COVID-19 and the capacity of hospitals to provide critical care as the basis on whether it will already put Metro Manila under GCQ after 31 May.

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COVID-19 WATCH

Corrections chief has coronavirus

Alvin Murcia

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Bureau of Corrections (BuCor) chief Gerald Bantag confirmed Monday that he tested positive for coronavirus.

The confirmation was made by Bantag two days after BuCor spokesperson Gabriel Chaglag disclosed that he contracted the virus following a swab test conducted last Tuesday.

Chaclag along with two personnel of the BuCor director general earlier tested positive for Covid-19, prompting the latter to undergo swab test.

The BuCor chief admitted that he experienced symptoms of the virus for two nights such as chills and high temperature.

Bantag said he took paracetamol and vitamin C and noticed that the symptoms were gone on the third night.

The BuCor chief also confirmed that his driver and close-in security also tested positive for the virus.

Previously, nine high profile inmates, including drug convict Jaybee Sebastian, who is one of the accused-witnesses in the illegal drug trade case filed against opposition Senator Leila de Lima, have died reportedly due to the virus.

The BuCor as of July has reported 350 confirmed cases of COVID-19 among inmates and prison officers with 21 deaths.

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Phl tops 290,000 infections

Gabbie Parlade

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The Philippines on Monday breached the 290,000-mark with 3,475 new cases of COVID-19, the Department of Health (DoH) reported.

Out of the total 290,190 cases, the active cases of infections have also reached over 54,000 where a majority at 86 percent are patients with mild symptoms.

Metro Manila remains to have the highest tally of newly-reported cases at 1,543 followed by some areas in the CALABARZON region and in Cebu.

On the other hand, the number of recoveries has reached 230,233 after another set of mass recoveries over the weekend have escalated the record.

The number of fatalities, meanwhile, is nearly reaching the 5,000 mark with 15 additional deaths identified mostly coming also from Metro Manila, Western and Eastern Visayas and CALABARZON.

However, the DoH said that out of the numbers tallied about nine out of the 129 licensed laboratories were still unable to submit their data as of 20 September.

Worldwide, the data Johns Hopkins University showed that the Philippines now ranks at the 21st spot of having the most record of coronavirus infections.

The United States still tops the list at 6.8 million followed by India with 5.4 million cases while the global tally of infected individuals is now at over 31 million.

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Easing up of quarantines depends on Pinoys’ discipline

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The Inter-Agency Task Force for the Emerging for the Management of Emerging Infectious Disease (IATF) said easing up of community quarantines still depends on the self-discipline of Filipinos.

During the Laging Handa PH public briefing Monday, Trade Secretary Ramon Lopez said people now are learning how to move and live with the virus, that could lead to the imposition of a lenient modified general community quarantine (MGCQ), nine days before this month’s implementation of general community quarantine (GCQ) ends on 30 September.

“We in the IATF believe that people nowadays are learning to move in managing the virus. In my personal belief, we can push the easing up of community quarantine but what is important is that people in the country must have self-discipline and self-regulation. This will lessen the community transmission even during modified GCQ. That time, it will allow us to open more sectors in the economy,” Lopez said.

Lopez explained that residents should have to strictly follow the seven commandments, namely wearing proper masks and face shields, no talking and no eating in public transportation, adequate ventilation, frequent and proper disinfection, no symptomatic passengers and appropriate physical distancing.

“If we strictly abide by these seven commandments, we can control the local transmission that could lead to the eradication of Covid-19. This will also help ease the burden of our frontliners who have been battling Covid-19 for the past six months. By doing this, everything will go back to normal and the remaining part of the economy will reopen,” he said.

Lopez noted that 50 percent of the economy is already in MGCQ, while seven or less provinces are reverted to ECQ and MECQ, yet, more sectors in many parts of the country have already opened up.

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NZ close to stopping virus

Agence France-Presse

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WELLINGTON, New Zealand (AFP) — Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern moved most of New Zealand to the lowest virus alert setting Monday, saying the country was edging towards eliminating Covid-19.

Ardern announced New Zealand would from late Monday move down to virus level one in its four-tier alert system, except for Auckland, where the country’s most recent outbreak emerged.

“Our actions collectively have managed to get the virus under control,” said Ardern, whose government has been widely praised internationally for its coronavirus response.

The decision means that mass gatherings, such as the first Bledisloe Cup rugby Test between the All Blacks and Australia in Wellington on 11 October, can proceed without restrictions.

New Zealand has recorded just 25 deaths in a population of five million, with no new cases reported on Monday.

The virus was believed to have been eradicated at one point, with the country enjoying 102 days without community transmission after a strict national lockdown that ran from late March to late May.

Ardern said elimination was still New Zealand’s target.

“Analysis completed for the ministry of health suggests that by the end of this month, there is still a 50-50 chance of having eliminated Covid once again,” she said.

But she said Auckland “needs more time” to eliminate a stubborn cluster of infections that was detected last month in the city of 1.5 million.

“This was the centre of the outbreak and that’s why caution is required here,” she said.

The origin of the Auckland cluster remains unknown, but health authorities say it is not the same strain of the virus experienced earlier this year.

Despite the mystery, Ardern said extensive testing and effective contract tracing were keeping it contained.

Auckland’s alert will move down slightly from 2.5 to two on Wednesday, meaning the maximum number at social gatherings increases from 10 to 100.

The city’s virus setting will be reviewed in two weeks, with the possibility it could join the rest of the country at level one on 7 October.

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3 Cebu cities push for proper mask disposal

Rico Osmeña

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The three major cities in Cebu have separately pushed for an ordinance that prohibits the improper disposal of masks and other coronavirus protective gears and products.

The first to pass and approve the ordinance is Lapu-Lapu. It was sponsored by councilor Ricardo Amores, who is the City Council Committee on Environment and Natural Resources chairman.

In an interview, Amores cited Republic Act 9003 or the Ecological Solid Waste Management Act of 2000 which prohibits littering and other acts detrimental to public health.

The public health emergency has resulted in increased consumption and disposal of personal protective equipment (PPE), as well as disinfectant and hygiene products to prevent infection and contain the spread of the virus.

“A photo documentation by the zero waste advocacy group EcoWaste Coalition, including posts by concerned local netizens showed used masks, as well as PPE were improperly disposed,” Amores disclosed.

In Lapu-Lapu City, the penalties were pegged at P1,000 for first offense, P3,000 for second offense and P5,000 for third offense.

In separate interviews, Mandaue City councilor Carmelino del Mar Jr. and Cebu City North district councilor Alvin Dizon said proposed ordinances have already been filed.

Del Mar said a resolution has been adopted by the Mandaue City Council and the proposed ordinance will have its first reading on 23 September.

Dizon said that the proposed ordinance has already been referred to the Committee on Laws and Ordinances.

The Cebu City Council, on the other hand, is set to conduct a public hearing on the proposed ordinance.

Meanwhile, EcoWaste Coalition coordinator Lito Vasquez said that there are proposals to put up a system to segregate used masks and PPE from the household level to the dumpsite/landfill.

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Survey: 7 of 10 Filipinos lost their jobs

Rey Bancod

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Nine of 10 Filipinos have confirmed that their livelihood has been disrupted or severely affected by the coronavirus pandemic, a recent survey conducted by the World Vision in the Philippines.

The survey covered 985 respondents from 42 municipalities and six cities in 20 provinces.

A staggering 71 percent of the respondents lost their jobs.

Food security emerged as a top issue among half of the respondents (51 percent).

Due to prolonged income loss, 68 percent of the households said they are not able to completely meet their food needs, resulting in family members eating fewer than three meals a day.

According to the Food and Nutrition Research Institute (FNRI), the average Filipino family of six needs at least P2,200.80 weekly for food.

Due to the ongoing pandemic, food expenses of surveyed families have significantly dropped to as low as P1,184 a week on average during the quarantine period.

To cope with limited means, 24 percent of respondent families have resorted to borrowing money, tapping into savings, and reducing the quantity and quality of their meals. Some have disposed or sold their assets (7 percent) to provide for their daily needs.

The other topmost concerns of hundreds of Filipinos during the pandemic are disrupted education and limited access to healthcare.

World Vision’s rapid assessment also revealed major concerns about education opportunities and continuity, with 45 percent citing this as a top concern.

With face-to-face learning suspended due to the risk of virus transmission, the Department of Education has prescribed the distance or blended learning mode.

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Health experts under fire

Gabbie Parlade

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As officials continue to remind the public of following existing minimum health standards, the Department of Health (DoH) on Monday reiterated that sanctions will be imposed against its violators.

This came after a group of health experts recently conducted a gathering dubbed as #FlattenTheFearPH that proposed for the complete lifting of lockdown to the national government.

Health Undersecretary Maria Rosario Vergeire said that based on the recording of the video which they’ve seen, most of the attendees of the event were not wearing masks while conducting a public gathering which is still not allowed by the current protocols.

“When this was reported to us, we were able to relay it immediately to the Department of the Interior of Local Government (DILG) so they are investigating right now and whatever is there in their findings, necessary sanctions will be meted out,” she said.

She likewise urged the group, the Concerned Doctors and Citizens of the Philippines (CDC Ph), along with other experts to instead recommend treatments that are already approved with enough scientific basis.

This is regarding the group’s proposal on the use of hydroxychloroquine as a prophylaxis treatment against COVID-19.

Earlier Vergeire pointed out that this anti-malarial drug has been removed by the World Health Organization (WHO) in its solidarity trial after adverse effects such as in the heart and in other organs have been reported.

It is likewise not advisable to use it with any antiviral agent or with a macrolide on COVID-19 patients that are probable and confirmed as well as for those in the mild to early stages.

“We should never recommend any medication to the public without sufficient evidence,” she said, noting that it could further harm the public with its unregulated use.

Nonetheless, Vergeire said that the IATF still has its doors open for more recommendations by other sectors but reminding that it should be done through proper platforms that are not violating any of the said protocols.

On the other hand, the DoH has likewise tapped the DILG regarding the lack of physical distancing among visitors of the Manila Bay in its first opening over the weekend.

She said it is imperative that despite these kinds of development adherence to the minimum health standards should at all times be observed.

“This was a very alarming situation and we all know that the virus is not yet gone,” she said.

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Gov’t mulls return of ‘new normal’ quarantine status  

MJ Blancaflor

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The government is eyeing to place parts of the country without coronavirus disease (COVID-19) cases in the past month under the “new normal” classification, Malacañang said Monday.

Presidential spokesperson Harry Roque said the Inter-Agency Task Force for the Management of Infectious Diseases (IATF) has agreed to revert the quarantine status which lifts restrictions on business activities including travel, provided that minimum health standards are observed.

“I suggested myself that areas with zero transmission in the past month may be placed under the ‘new normal,’ which the IATF has agreed with,” Roque told reporters in a Palace briefing.

The “new normal” classification used to be the fifth and lowest quarantine classification until the task force temporarily removed it in June.

Under the current four-tier classification, the modified general community quarantine (MGCQ) is the most lenient lockdown status. The majority of provinces in the Philippines are currently under MGCQ, except Metro Manila which remains under the general community quarantine (GCQ).

Under MGCQ, public gatherings such as movie screenings, concerts, sporting events, and other entertainment activities are allowed, but participants may fill no more than half of the capacity of the venue. The same rule applies to religious gatherings, community assemblies, and non-essential work gatherings.

The current lockdown classifications are set to lapse after 30 September.

So far, the Philippines has tallied over 290,000 coronavirus infections, of which 54,958 are active cases. The death toll, meanwhile, stands at 4,999.

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Britain overhauls virus-hit privatised rail sector

Agence France-Presse

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Britain launched Monday a radical overhaul of its coronavirus-plagued privatized rail sector that will see franchises replaced with concessions subject to tougher scrutiny and greater state involvement. (Yahoo)

Britain launched Monday a radical overhaul of its coronavirus-plagued privatized rail sector that will see franchises replaced with concessions subject to tougher scrutiny and greater state involvement.

Train services will no longer be managed by franchises, which handed their management to private operator companies, and these will be replaced by concession-style agreements.

“Ministers today ended rail franchising after 24 years as the first step in bringing Britain’s fragmented network back together. The new system will create a simpler, more effective structure and will take shape over the coming months,” the Department for Transport (DfT) said in a statement.

While Britain’s rail tracks remain in state hands, the trains are run by mostly private companies enjoying large government subsidies.

‘No longer working’

But Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s Conservative government decided in March to take on rail franchise holders’ revenue and cost risks as the Covid-19 pandemic decimated demand. The move was part of emergency measures that cost £3.5 billion ($4.5 billion, 3.8 billion euros) according to media reports.

Transport Secretary Grant Shapps declared Monday that the current privatized rail model was not working in the current climate, as many commuters and travelers stay at home.

“The model of privatization adopted 25 years ago has seen significant rises in passenger numbers, but this pandemic has proven that it is no longer working,” Shapps said.

The new system will keep the best elements of the private sector but add better direction and accountability, he added.

“Our new deal for rail demands more for passengers. It will simplify people’s journeys, ending the uncertainty and confusion about whether you are using the right ticket or the right train company,” said Shapps.

‘Significant’ state support

The Department for Transport said it would maintain the current “significant” levels of state support under the new Emergency Recovery Management Agreements (ERMAs), but aimed to achieve savings in the long run.

“Until passenger numbers return, significant taxpayer support will still be needed, including under the transitional contracts announced today. But the reforms will enable substantial medium and longer-term savings for taxpayers,” the DfT noted.

Rail operators will still be paid management fees for running services under the ERMA system — but these will be lower than under emergency measures that were implemented in March.

Keith Williams, a former British Airways boss commissioned by the government to carry out a “root and branch” review of the rail sector, welcomed the new strategy.

“These new agreements represent the end of the complicated franchising system, demand more from the expertise and skills of the private sector, and ensure passengers return to a more punctual and co-ordinated railway,” he said.

However, trade unions slammed the move, which is the first major sector-wide overhaul since the Conservatives privatized British Rail back in the mid-1990s.

“This announcement should now force the government’s hand and lead them to face up to what has been staring them in the face for the best part of three decades — that public ownership is the only model that works and can steer us through a crisis such as Covid-19,” said Rail, Maritime, and Transport union general secretary Mick Cash.

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