The Palace on Monday said it is not keen on extending the imposition of the enhanced community quarantine (ECQ) in Metro Manila and four nearby provinces beyond 11 April since it could no longer provide additional cash aid to affected residents.
Presidential spokesperson Secretary Harry Roque said the government is eyeing to put the Greater Manila Area under modified ECQ — a more lenient quarantine classification — once the current lockdown status of the area lapses.
“Budget Secretary (Wendel) Avisado said that we have no more funds for ayuda (assistance), and Congress currently is on recess. So, in case we need a supplemental budget, we would have to request a special session,” Roque said in various TV interviews.
“I don’t think ECQ for a third week is actually a possibility,” he added.
Roque announced on Sunday that President Rodrigo Duterte has kept Metro Manila, Bulacan, Cavite, Laguna, and Rizal under the strictest lockdown classification “for a minimum of one week.”
The areas were initially placed under a one-week ECQ until 4 April, but coronavirus infections continue to increase.
Roque said the government would review the country’s Covid-19 data to determine whether the areas could be placed under modified ECQ after 11 April.
He said the policy was based on the model presented by the Department of Health to the Inter-Agency Task Force on Emerging Infectious Diseases.
“That’s the model we’re pursuing — two weeks of ECQ and another week of modified ECQ,” Roque said.
The Department of Health, meanwhile, said it is too early to determine if the two-week ECQ enforced in Metro Manila and four nearby provinces was effective in controlling coronavirus transmissions.
“It’s too early for us to say the ECQ is working, we will see after two weeks… We won’t see any changes right now,” Health Undersecretary Maria Rosario Vergeire said in a press briefing.
She also cautioned that the country may see an “artificial” decline in new Covid-19 cases in the next few days because dozens of testing laboratories halted operations during the Holy Week, adding that the public should be careful in interpreting data.
The health official also appealed to testing centers to refrain from halting operations, noting that aggressive testing is needed to assess the pandemic situation in the Philippines.
“Let’s not assume the spread of transmission is slowing down because of the artificial decline. We won’t see the effect of ECQ about two weeks from the end of ECQ,” Vergeire said.
At least 22.9 million Filipinos in ECQ areas were expected to receive P1,000-worth of “in-kind” aid or compensation for loss of livelihoods during the lockdown. The amount would not exceed P4,000 per family, officials have said.
The P23-billion worth of funds for the social amelioration program would be sourced from the remaining unutilized funds under Bayanihan 2, the country’s second pandemic stimulus package.
With the implementation of stricter community quarantine and enforcement of health protocols, Roque said the government is expecting the Covid-19 numbers to go down to “4,000 a day by 15 May”.
Under ECQ, residents must stay at home, except to obtain essential supplies and for emergencies.
All industries should also temporarily halt their operations, except those essential such as health services, agriculture, forestry, fishery, and necessary stories including groceries, pharmacies, and supermarkets.
Meanwhile, under modified ECQ, select manufacturing and processing plants were allowed to open up to a maximum of 50 percent capacity.
Metro Manila, which accounts for at least 30 percent of the country’s GDP, last observed an ECQ from March to May, shutting down businesses and leaving millions of Filipinos jobless and hungry.