President Rodrigo Duterte on Monday night rejected the proposal of his own pandemic response team to allow children aged 10 to 14 to step out of their homes in areas under modified general community quarantine (MGCQ) starting next month.
The President, in his public address, said he was “forced” to maintain the existing rule that only 15 to 65 years old will be allowed to go out to limit the movement of children, citing the threat of the new and more infectious Covid-19 variant.
“I am compelled — it has nothing to do with the incompetence, none at all. It’s just a precaution because there is a strain discovered in the Cordillera that is very similar to the strain discovered in the United Kingdom,” Duterte said.
“I trust that our doctors, our medical workers, are competent enough to determine this situation. So let’s remain at home first,” he added.
His remarks came after 34 Filipinos who had close contact with a dozen patients infected with variant B117 have tested positive for the virus.
The President noted that UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson has warned that the new variant, first discovered in southeast London, might be deadlier than the dominant ones apart from being more contagious.
“Once it is confirmed that children can be infected, well, that order will subsist until such time that everybody will be safe by the vaccine,” Duterte added.
The Inter-Agency Task Force on Emerging Infectious Diseases (IATF) “unanimously” approved last week to ease age-based restrictions on account of the economy.
Prior to that, the task force only permitted people aged 15 to 65 years old to go out amid the continuing Covid-19 threat.
The IATF’s announcement drew concerns from medical groups and statisticians monitoring pandemic figures.
Presidential spokesperson Harry Roque, who concurrently serves as IATF mouthpiece, defended the decision by saying it would be good for a children’s “social and mental health” since they have stayed in their homes for 10 months due to government-imposed lockdowns.
Roque also cited observations that 10-year-old children have started to develop their cognitive skills of following instructions from adults and were “less frisky” compared to their younger peers.
Cabinet Secretary Karlo Nograles, who also serves as IATF co-chair, even said that the task force will issue a “clarificatory resolution” to indicate that children cannot just go outside their homes if they are unaccompanied by their parents.”
At least 34 close contacts of individuals infected with the B117 variant in Bontoc, Mountain Province also tested positive for the disease, the Department of Health (DoH) announced earlier in the day.
Health Undersecretary Maria Rosario Vergeire said the new patients were among the 144 close contacts of the 12 Covid-19 patients found with the more contagious B117 variant who have been identified by authorities.
The health official added the agency monitored three clusters of Covid-19 infections in the mountain town in Bontoc. She said, however, that the details are “not definite.”
“What happened is a very good example on how fast this disease spreads,” she said in vernacular.
Vergeire said the first or index case in Bontoc was a man who arrived from the UK on 13 December. The returning Filipino had a negative swab test result for coronavirus before he went up to the province the following day.
The patient celebrated Christmas with his family and attended a ritual with the natives of Bontoc on 26 December. He started developing symptoms on 29 December.
The incubation period of Covid-19 — or the time between exposure to the virus and onset of symptoms — is from five to six days on average but it can be as long as 14 days.
Five villages in Bontoc were placed under lockdown due to the threat of the new Covid-19 variant, and Vergeire said the DoH recommended its extension for another two weeks following the developments.
She also reminded local government units to observe the mandatory 14-day quarantine for returning Filipinos.
Bontoc, Mountain Province Mayor Franklin Odsey said more contract tracers will be deployed in his municipality as the number of Covid-19 cases keeps increasing.
The Philippines, with over 513,000 Covid-19 cases and 10,000 deaths, has the second most number of infections in Southeast Asia.