Extending the enhanced community quarantine (ECQ) or lockdown due to the threat of coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19)—which has killed 78 and infected 1,546 nationwide, with 128 new cases reported as of 4 pm – was not advisable, as this measure would adversely affect the domestic economy, Interior Secretary Eduardo Año said Monday.
The Department of Health (DOH) itself cannot forecast yet if the Luzon-wide lockdown wil be over soon.
Health Secretary Francisco Duque III on Monday cited the case of Wuhan, China, which started its lockdown on January 23 but restricted just the same.
This meant, Duque added, that the lockdown was not completely lifted.
The mixed signals from the authorities on whether the ECQ, imposed on March 16 across the country of 108 million people, will be extended or not after April 14 came as senators warned of social unrest from daily wage workers who have been unable to work during the lockdown.
Sen. Panfilo Lacson on Monday warned of “a serious social problem” if the Philippine government would not act swiftly following reports that families, especially the daily wage earners, were going hungry already.
Lacson said “a hungry stomach knows no law,” saying that in Isabela province there were reports that some people were eating corn fungus to stave off hunger.
“If the Executive (department) does not act with dispatch, we may have a serious social problem to face,” the senator said.
Duque said in an interview on Dobol B sa News TV, that even while Wuhan had plunged to a single digit in regard to reported cases, Wuhan authorities had not completely lifted the lockdown.
Ano noted the number of COVID-19 cases in China peaked three weeks after it implemented community-wide quarantine protocols, adding in another interview on Dobol B sa News TV that if the lockdown were extended, the country’s economy would suffer.
He said authorities would help make the curve flat during the last two weeks, but stressed none should be disobedient and everyone should follow the protocol.
Año made the statement amid the continuous increase of COVID-19 cases in the country, which the Department of Health said was expected due to the increased testing capacity.
Año, the vice chairman of the national action plan against COVID-19, explained that there had been a continuous rise on the number of coronavirus cases because of the release of the results of the testings conducted.
He believes that if the government did not impose an enhanced community quarantine, the number of cases in the Philippines could have reached 20,000 by now.
There are currently 874 persons under investigation and 6,321 persons under monitoring.
Meanwhile, Duque said the COVID-19 fatality rate in the country had decreased from 8% to 5%.
He also reiterated that as the backlog on COVID-19 tests would be completed in the coming days, more reflective figures on the number of new cases would emerge.
Health Undersecretary Maria Rosario Vergeire said the Research Institute for Tropical Medicine committed to finish all its backlogs by end of March.
Lacson also mentioned another Filipino saying,“Aanhin pa ang damo, kung patay na ang kabayo” (what use is grass to a dead horse) should be repeatedly reminded to the officials in charge of implementing the distribution of the cash dole-outs to the 18 million families.
At this time when daily wage earners must have exhausted whatever limited savings and personal loans they subsist on, the senator noted that every meal missed by their children means desperation.
“We know what desperation can drive a head of the family to do when he sees his family starving,” said the former Philippine National Police (PNP) chief.
Meanwhile, Senate President Vicente Sotto III and Sen. Joel Villanueva said they expected to receive President Rodrigo Duterte’s first report on how the executive department used additional funds and powers approved by Congress to boost the government’s response to the coronavirus crisis.
“I expect to receive a report on the distribution of financial aid to the 18 million families of the informal sector, mass testing specially in urban areas, and prioritization of the safety and welfare of the frontline health workers,” said Sotto.
Villanueva said he wanted to see the specific mechanisms on how the government operationalized the release of the emergency subsidy worth P5,000 to P8,000, the implementation of the expanded 4Ps, as well as the additional allocation for our emergency employment programs like CAMP and TUPAD.
He said the immediate roll-out of these programs should help stem the hunger already being felt by Filipinos.
Under the “Bayanihan to Heal as One Act”, Sotto said the President must submit a weekly report to Congress, detailing how the government utilized public funds to send aid to indigent families and health workers battling COVID-19.
He said Senate Minority Leader Franklin Drilon and senators Pia Cayetano, Christopher Go, and Panfilo Lacson were assigned to represent the Senate in the Congress’ joint oversight committee.
While the law exempts coronavirus-related purchases from the procurement process, the executive branch will still have to subject itself to state audit, said Drilon.
“I want to emphasize that the rules of the Commission on Audit and the law on anti-graft are not being waived in so far as the execution of this law is concerned,” he added.
Sen. Francis Pangilinan said it’s been five days since the emergency powers, and as required by law, IATF needs to submit to Congress and effectively to the people a progress report every week.
He report should answer these questions:
1. On resources: The law specifies savings from the Executive Branch and its special purpose fund, how much resources have been identified for this anti-COVID all-Philippines’ effort?
2. On the health strategy: The law focuses on prompt and free testing, has a system been put in place to do this during the lockdown? What about a system for transporting front-liners? Have the donated medical products in the BoC been released? How many test kits, PPEs, medical devices, and medicines have since become available? What seems to be hindering the conduct of these tests? At what stage of preparation for the peak of COVID cases are we?
3. On the economic strategy: The law foresees the continuing need for food and other essential goods, has the DTI lifted its order for food manufacturers to stop operations? How long will the present food supply last? How many food producers (farmers and fishers), food workers (in food, medicine, and medical supply manufacturing), and transport and logistics personnel (drivers, pahinante) have been granted passes? What system is in place to keep them safe (PPEs for them) and to transport them and their goods to their place of work and to the market? How many of the 18 million low-income households have already received their P5,000 to P8,000 in emergency subsidy?READ: Localized lockdown eyedREAD: Duterte suspends classes in Metro manila Until March 14
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