President Rodrigo Duterte has rejected the proposed shift of the entire Philippines into modified general community quarantine (MGCQ) until there is a rollout of coronavirus vaccines, Malacañang announced Monday.
Presidential spokesperson Secretary Harry Roque said Duterte won’t heed the call of his economic managers to further ease quarantine restrictions next month even if he acknowledged the need to spur economic growth, as the country’s Covid-19 vaccination program has yet to begin.
“The Chief Executive recognizes the importance of reopening the economy and its impact on people’s livelihoods. However, the President gives a higher premium to public health and safety,” Roque said through a statement sent to reporters.
The Palace official also said the Philippine leader wants vaccination to start the “soonest possible time” in order to ease restrictions.
The announcement came on the same day the Philippines recorded 2,288 new coronavirus cases, its biggest single-day increase since 8 November.
The new infections pushed the nationwide tally to 563,456, of which 28,488 or 5.1 percent were active cases.
Thirty-three new survivors brought the recoveries to 522,874, while the death toll rose to 12,094 after six more patients died.
Duterte’s economic managers have been hoping to place Metro Manila, which accounts for 60 percent of the country’s GDP, under MGCQ to revive the economy after the Philippines in 2020 saw its worst economic contraction since 1947.
But the proposal had been opposed by some health experts, who believe it could lead to spikes in Covid-19 infections.
The Inter-Agency Task Force on Emerging Infectious Diseases (IATF), the government’s policy-making body in addressing the pandemic, has backed the call to ease quarantine restrictions and to allow more businesses to operate.
Nine out of 17 Metro Manila mayors also voted to downgrade the capital region’s lockdown status from general community quarantine (GCQ) into MGCQ starting next month.
The League of Provinces of the Philippines has likewise said it favored the shift to MGCQ, provided that governors are authorized to impose lockdowns or change their quarantine status if the need arises.
A study by the National Economic and Development Authority found that prolonged lockdowns in the country would cause additional 23.7 million people to experience hunger, 4.5 million more to fall into poverty, and 2.6 million to lose their jobs.
Apart from Metro Manila, other areas under GCQ in February are Cordillera Administrative Region, Batangas, Tacloban City, Iligan City, Davao del Norte, Davao City, and Lanao del Sur.
The rest of the country has stayed under the least restrictive MGCQ this month.
The said quarantine classifications will lapse by the end of the month.
The World Health Organization earlier warned the Philippines against the proposed nationwide relaxation of the community quarantine, citing the likely upsurge of Covid-19 cases amid the threat of new virus variants and the delay of the state’s vaccination program.
The OCTA Research group, an independent firm monitoring the country’s pandemic figures, also cautioned that Covid-19 cases in Metro Manila could hit 2,400 per day by March if the capital region is placed under MGCQ.
Under MGCQ, face-to-face classes for higher education institutions would be allowed.
All private and public offices can also resume operations at full capacity, with special remote arrangements for persons aged 60 and above, pregnant women, and people with underlying health conditions.
Metro Manila on 16 March will mark its first year under lockdown due to the pandemic.
The country has yet to begin vaccinating its citizens, lagging behind many of its Southeast Asian neighbors such as Singapore and coup-hit Myanmar.