Health Secretary Francisco Duque III told lawmakers of the selective lockdown during a House hearing Tuesday as number of confirmed cases reached 33 after nine more patients tested positive.
“Based on our objective criteria, we will see a possible lockdown. If that happens, it will be localized. It will not be the entire Metro Manila,” he said.
“A lockdown scenario is possible if there is proof of community-based transmission. So far, we do not see that yet,” Duque added.
Interior Secretary Eduardo Año said the government is prepared to implement a lockdown.
“We have the Philippine National Police and the Armed Forces of the Philippines to help the affected local government units,” he added.
On Monday evening, President Rodrigo Duterte dismissed a lockdown of Metro Manila, saying the country has not “reached that kind of contamination” yet.
A lockdown would make it difficult for supplies like rice to enter Metro Manila, he said.
“We haven’t reached that kind of contamination. There are only a few cases, with this transmission you want to close down the economy?” he said.
“There will be a time I suppose, I hope not. I hope God will have mercy on the Filipino people. It’s too early at this time,” the President added.
Albay Rep. Joey Salceda, however, supported an early lockdown, saying he doubted the capability of DOH to deal with a sudden surge of COVID-19 patients.
He suggested a one-week lockdown in Metro Manila to prevent the spread of COVID-19, which would cost the economy about P51 billion. This economic loss, however, could be recovered once the COVID-19 threat has been contained.
Metro Manila mayors were split on a possible lockdown, with San Juan City Mayor Francis Zamora and Makati Mayor Abby Binay opposing it, and Marikina City Mayor Marcelino Teodero saying he was open to it.
The mayors on Tuesday agreed to form a technical working group (TWG) tasked to create uniform policies on social distancing measures to reduce and prevent the spread of COVID-19.
This after members of the Metro Manila Council (MMC) and officials of the Metropolitan Manila Development Authority and Department of the Interior and Local Government convened an emergency meeting and discussed measures to prevent the local transmission of the infectious disease.
MMDA chairman Danilo Lim, who presided over the MMC meeting, said the uniform policies – in the form of a resolution – would be used as basis for the local government units as one region in ensuring the health and safety of the public amid the spread of the COVID-19.
“The policies would set standard parameters, like for example, in suspending mass gatherings in the entire Region,” said Lim, during the MMC meeting held at MMDA main headquarters in Makati City.
For her part, Health Assistant Secretary Ma. Rosario Vergeire said the total number of positive cases was 33 rather than 35 as earlier reported by the World Health Organization (WHO), because tests were repeated for two patients.
Vergeire said the spike in the confirmed cases was due to the “heightened surveillance” by the DOH.
An 86-year-old American and a 62-year-old Filipino were both in critical condition.
The 13 new cases were admitted to Dr. Jose N. Rodriguez Memorial Hospital and Sanitarium; Cardinal Santos Medical Center; San Lazaro Hospital; St. Luke’s Medical Center Quezon City; New Clark City (NCC) quarantine facility; and the Medical City.
The oldest was 82 years old, while the youngest was 28. Two of them were repatriated from the COVID-struck Diamond Princess cruise ship but most seemed to have no history of travel abroad.
Vegeire said of the 13 new cases, patients 21 to 24 were in stable condition, patients 25 -26 were asymptomatic, and the status of patients 27-33 were for verification.
The department’s Epidemiology Bureau was conducting comprehensive contract tracing for all cases, she said.
The DOH, she added, is also in close coordination with concerned local government units and centers for health development on infection prevention and control measures at the local level, and the Philippine National Police and other government agencies for identification and management of close contacts.
Vegeire said there was no need for a lockdown at this point, since the country was still on red alert sub-level 1, and not sub-level 2 or sustained community transmission, which would call for more drastic measures.
Food and Drug Administration (FDA) Director General Eric Domingo said it had allowed the use of a novel coronavirus testing kit developed by University of the Philippines-Manila due to increasing number of reported COVID 19 cases.
“The increasing number of reported COVID 19 cases will require immediate diagnosis and monitoring. This will provide our laboratories with technological reinforcement to accommodate the growing number of patients to be tested and aid in early screening of positive cases.
Furthermore, this will provide greater access to a less costly diagnostic procedure,” Domingo said in the statement.
“This supports the code red status raised by the Department of Health and the recent declaration of President Rodrigo Duterte of a state of public health emergency,” he said.
The FDA said it issued a certificate of exemption that would allow the detection kits developed by the UP-National Institute of Health to be “used for field testing coupled with gene sequencing at the Philippine Genome Center.”
Raul Destura, director of the Institute of Molecular Biology and Biotechnology, earlier said Filipino scientists developed the test kits after WHO released the whole genome sequence of the virus.
Quoting WHO, Duque said there is a global shortage of kits for testing potential COVID-19 cases.
At present, he said the Research Institute for Tropical Medicines (RITM) has 4,500 testing kits. They are expecting to receive 2,000 more from the WHO.
He said Philippine Amusement and Gaming Corporation (Pagcor) earlier committed to give P2 billion to buy additional test kits.
“There are funds. The problem there is the global supply. That’s the number one challenge,” he said.
In related developments:
* The Manila Health Department intensified its campaign against the spread of COVID-19 as the city government confirmed its first positive case of a patient infected with the new coronavirus. According to data from the Manila Health COVID-19 Surveillance Unit, as of March 10, 2020, one new confirmed case was found in Manila.
* The National Capital Region Police Office is closely monitoring three personnel for possible exposure to COVID-19. Two of them were members of the Eastern Police District with travel history to Japan while the other is a San Juan City policeman who came in contact with a confirmed COVID-19 patient at a Muslim prayer room in Greenhills.
The three, according to Metro Manila police director Debold Sinas, are now under home quarantine after exhibiting symptoms. Sinas said NCRPO personnel are now temporarily disallowed to go on foreign trips, especially to countries affected by the disease.
* The Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) on Tuesday confirmed that a fourth Filipino national tested positive for COVID-19 in Hong Kong.
Citing information from the Philippine Consulate General in Hong Kong, the agency said the new patient was asymptomatic. The first Filipino national who contracted the disease was discharged from the hospital on March 6, while the second and third cases are still confined in the hospital, which brings back to three the total number of COVID-19-positive Filipinos in the special administrative region.
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