Months of being under community quarantine and the travails of other countries now experiencing the second wave of the coronavirus disease pandemic made decision makers extra cautious as they leaned towards keeping the current general community quarantine (GCQ) in the National Capital Region (NCR) and neighboring provinces.
Despite the flattening of cases of infections in the country, with two weeks straight of having below 2,000 incidences of contaminations daily, officials involved in disease control said the protocols will be maintained while restrictions on businesses will be gradually relaxed.
Department of Trade and Industry (DTI) Secretary Ramon Lopez said the emerging consensus among national and local executives is to maintain a GCQ on NCR, which is considered the contagion’s ground zero in the country, for the rest of the year including during the Christmas holidays.
We are looking at the possible relaxing of age restrictions.
The Inter-Agency Task Force (IATF) on emerging infectious diseases would likely give the recommendation to President Duterte in the coming days.
The President will also announce on Monday the status for provinces across the country.
In his Thursday briefing, presidential spokesperson Harry Roque said the IATF will review the coronavirus data during the weekend to come up with solid recommendations to the President.
In a remote interview, the DTI head stated that the most likely change during the Yuletide Season will be on the age range of those who will be allowed to leave their homes.
At the moment, only Filipinos of ages 15 to 65 years are allowed to go out but they are required to follow minimum health standards.
“What is definite for now is that we will not relax in terms of implementing the minimum health protocols, such as wearing a mask, face shield and practicing social distancing. That should always be there.
But what we are working on is probably the relaxation of some of our restrictions.
During GCQ, we have opened the economy although we haven’t shifted to modified GCQ,” according to Lopez.
Stronger monitoring eyed
The DTI chief noted that most industries right now are operating from 50 percent to 100 percent, while some are functioning at 75 percent, proving that the economy can still keep going even though Metro Manila and other neighboring provinces are under a GCQ classification.
“We are looking at the possible relaxing of age restrictions.
If ever, that is expected to further fuel consumer spending and the rebound of the economy. This in turn will encourage consumer confidence. We realized that although we reopened most sectors, the economy has not rebounded much,” he explained.
Lopez, meanwhile, said the DTI will strengthen its monitoring to ensure that the minimum health protocols are still followed in malls and flea markets, once age requirements are lowered.
In October, Lopez said that the celebration for the Christmas season this year will be subdued, urging most Filipinos to refrain from attending and from organizing face-to-face Christmas parties and huge get-togethers.
The IATF, meanwhile, may finalize the particular guidelines for the holiday season before November ends, amidst the coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) pandemic, according to IATF chairperson and Health Secretary Francisco Duque III.
“We are guided by the data analytics experts.
And based on their data, they will recommend the level and new status of the community quarantine. It might be discussed tomorrow, Friday,” according to Duque in a televised interview.
Ahead of the Monday announcement, vaccine czar Carlito Galvez Jr., who also serves as chief implementer of the policy against COVID-19, noted that Metro Manila mayors wanted to keep the GCQ in the capital region until year’s end.
The local chief executives are “very cautious” about downgrading the protocol for Metro Manila, which has the third strictest of a four-tier lockdown status.
“We are talking to mayors.
They are really very cautious about shifting to MGCQ in (Metro) Manila. Their recommendation is in case there will be easing of restrictions, it should be next year after the holidays,” he added.
What is definite for now is that we will not relax in terms of implementing the minimum health protocols, such as wearing a mask, face shield and practicing social distancing.
Metro Manila mayors have earlier said they wanted to sustain the GCQ for the rest of 2020 to keep residents from disregarding minimum health standards come December, as Filipinos traditionally hold family reunions and gatherings in schools and workplaces to celebrate the holidays.
Threat of spike real
Galvez admitted that the Philippines will likely see a spike in COVID-19 infections as people reunite with families and friends in the next few weeks. He said, however, that the police and the military were ordered to strictly enforce health protocols.
The government has discouraged people to go out during the holidays to curb coronavirus transmission.
“Now that there is commercial activity, there will really be a surge of people visiting malls.
We remind mall owners to strictly implement rules through their marshals,” he said.
Metro Manila, which accounts for about a third of the country’s gross domestic product (GDP), has been under GCQ since August.
Only select businesses are allowed to operate at full capacity in GCQ areas.
As of Thursday afternoon, the Philippines has recorded 424,297 infections, of which 28,789 are active. The death toll stands at 8,242.
The Department of Health reported 1,392 COVID-19 cases yesterday.
After seeing an increase in several areas including in the country’s epicenter, a group of experts warned that this could indicate a gradual rise in the nationwide COVID-19 cases despite initially noting a declining trend.
In the latest report by the team released on Wednesday, the OCTA research pointed out that there have been several factors which could have contributed to this trend.
This included the effects of recent typhoons, increased mobility with opening more economical sectors as well as delays in reporting by some laboratories.
The DTI chief noted that most industries right now are operating from 50 percent to 100 percent, while some are functioning at 75 percent.
“The slight increases in the reproduction number for both the country and most especially in the NCR has been observed.
What is clear is that if this trend continues, it would indicate that we are beginning to see a gradual rise in cases of COVID-19,” the group said.
Among the areas that had the highest number of new cases per day were Metro Manila, CALABARZON, Central Luzon and Western Visayas.
In specific, the OCTA team said that nine out of the 17 local government units in NCR had an uptick especially in Makati City.
For other provinces, CALABARZON noted an increase due to additional cases mostly affected by Laguna, Quezon and Batangas with factors involving escalated positivity rates and hospital occupancy.
In Central Luzon, the rise was mainly contributed by infected individuals in Tarlac, Bulacan and Bataan to which positivity rates have likewise remained high.
By Raffy Ayeng, MJ BLANCAFLOR
and Gabbie Parlade