President Rodrigo Duterte will decide whether to extend or modify the Enhanced Community Quarantine in Luzon on Thursday, April 23, to give Filipinos enough time to prepare for possible changes, Senator Christopher “Bong” Go said Tuesday.
President Duterte will meet with the country’s coronavirus pandemic task force on the same day, said Go. There is a possibility the ECQ will be modified, the President’s former aide added.
This developed as none of the health experts that Duterte consulted pushed for a total lockdown in Luzon to slow the spread of the new coronavirus (COVID-19), the Palace said Tuesday.
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In a televised briefing, Presidential Spokesman Harry Roque said most of the experts said if the enhanced quarantine is extended beyond April 30, it should not cover the whole of Luzon.
“The recommendation was to maintain, relax, or lift the ECQ in different areas, depending on the number of COVID-19 cases,” Roque said in Filipino.
Roque said the President asked the experts about the possible outcomes if the Luzon-wide ECQ is lifted, modified or maintained. He also asked if there could be a second wave of infections, and how many would die if the restrictions are lifted soon.
Former Health Secretaries Esperanza Cabral, Janette Garin, and Jaime Galvez Tan, public health expert Dr. Susan Mercado, health reform advocate Dr. Anthony Leachon and Dr. Mahar Lagmay of the University of the Philippines attended the five-hour meeting in Malacañang.
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Senate President Vicente Sotto III, House Speaker Alan Peter Cayetano, Senator Christopher Go, Quezon Rep. Angelina Tan, and some Cabinet officials were also there.
Roque said that while the President had received recommendations from health and business experts, he has yet to meet top government officials on how to address the outbreak.
The Inter-Agency Task Force for the Management of Emerging Infectious Diseases said it is not easy for them to come up with a decision, saying “we still have time for the President to give his decision.”
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Cabinet Secretary Karlo Nograles, spokesman for the IATF, said that the meeting with experts for the private sector and government officials failed to reach a consensus on the next steps once the ECQ expires on April 30.
“It was a very extensive discussion and all the inputs that could be provided were discussed but we need more time so we have to do another round of discussions,” Nograles said.
The World Health Organization has warned that if restrictions are relaxed before storng systems are in place to identify, isolate and care for the sick and to trace their contracts, a resurgence of COVID-19 cases is likely.
“I’m sure nobody wants to see another spike but lifting restrictions so soon,” WHO Regional Director for Western Pacific Dr. Takeshi Kasai said.
In a virtual press conference, Kasai said the lifting of lockdown needs to be done gradually.
He said decision on the lifting or easing of a lockdown should be guided by public health principles.
Kasai added that any lifting of restrictions should be done in a gradual, phased manner.
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“We should always remember why we’re doing this.. we’re doing this to keep the number... [of infections lower so that] health care facilities can manage. And we’re doing this to really make sure the vulnerable are protected,” the WHO official said.
Kasai reiterated that this COVID-19 battle is going to be a long one and it”s really important time for people to think about a new way of living.
Senators on Tuesday backed a modified ECQ after the quarantine period ends on April 30.
Senator Joel Villanueva said there are several things the government should consider in deciding on whether to lift or to extend the quarantine.
Based on the data presented by the UP COVID Response Team, he said there are areas in Luzon where quarantine can be lifted because they are far from having an outbreak.
In areas like Metro Manila, Cebu, Bulacan and Davao City, Villanueva cited the need to look at economic considerations in exempting some sectors from the quarantine but with the caveat that they will practice the social distancing, hand washing and sanitizing protocols and regular random testing in these sectors.
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He noted that the UP School of Economics refers to this sector as the super spreaders.
“They have high impact on the economy but also have high impact in spreading the disease,” Villanueva said.
“We can let them operate but on the condition that they will comply with very strict protocols,” he said.
He cited as examples the construction, logistics and food production sectors.
Senator Juan Edgardo Angara it sounds like a reasonable compromise.
He said ports are open and operating and food should be free to move around the country as an absolute essential.
“Whatever the decision of the President is must be announced with some lead time especially if it involves some lifting or relaxation of the ECQ since preparations must be made on the ground,” he added.
Senator Manny Pacquiao said the lifting of the ECQ would depend on the country”s mass testing capacity.
“My personal opinion is unless we have conducted mass testing among Filipinos, it would be better to extend the ECQ even just a little longer for the safety of the public,” he said.
Senators Panfilo Lacson, Sherwin Gatchalian and Go opted for a modified ECQ that is still compliant with social distancing..
“While we value the primacy of life and public health, it cannot be denied that the country”s economy should not be ignored,” Lacson said.
He proposed that a risk assessment and action plan be conducted to produce a clearer picture of the impact of an extended lockdown moving forward to a post-April 30 scenario or even after.
Lacson cited data from the UP School of Economics, which showed that 70 percent of the country”s workforce are in the micro, small and medium enterprises, which account for at least 30 percent of the economy
In Metro Manila alone, he said at least 250,000 people from that sector are suffering from lost income.
Gatchalian said the enforcement of a modified ECQ should still depend on the analysis and recommendations of public health and medical experts, as well as scientists, and the flattening of the country”s COVID-19 curve.
Modifying the ECQ should also depend on whether or not the country”s testing capacity nationwide could reach from 15,000 to 20,000 per day.
Go said he favors extending the ECQ in the National Capital Region beyond April 30 due to the increasing cases of COVID-19 here.
Go said additional data can now be obtained from cities with the country’s testing capacity increased.
Senate President Pro Tempore Ralph Recto said he expects that the ECQ could be extended while areas that do not have any transmission of the disease can be placed under a modified community quarantine.
“Lifting the lockdown in certain areas with low or no transmission will allow people to work, earn and provide for their families. That will help in restarting our economy,” he added.
Senate President Vicente Sotto III said an extension of the ECQ would be possible if mass testing would not be implemented immediately.
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