Government triggers path to normalcy

• Eyes selective lockdown • Removal of checkpoints • Restoring economic flow

The government is eyeing a “selective lockdown” and gradual resumption of economic activity when the enhanced community quarantine over the COVID-19 outbreak in Luzon ends on April 14, wary of a more damaging effect on the economy if another national lockdown happens.

In an Inter-Agency Task Force-Private Sector meeting over the weekend, IATF head Secretary Carlito Galvez Jr. said the government might consider a “selective lockdown” instead of a national lockdown to make sure that the spread of the disease will be contained.

The task force, which met with the country's business leaders over the weekend (see some attendees above—Editor), is also contemplating a barangay lockdown (modified community quarantine) for at least two more weeks beginning April 16.

The task force also discussed the possible resumption of manufacturing activities, the elimination of checkpoints to allow the free flow movement of goods, and the provision of means of transportation for movement of workers.

Business tycoon Jaime Zobel de Ayala said based on the estimates of the Ayala Group’s scientists, the peak of the disease in the country could happen in the middle of May to middle of June 2020, adding he hoped he was wrong. “We need to flatten the curve,” Ayala said.

Ayala said the government must prioritize the feeding of the poor and avoid the possible collapse of the economy. The Philippines was the first Third-World nation that implemented a massive lockdown to contain the spread of the virus.

Moving forward post-COVID, Ayala said the government must explore ways on how to partially operate public transportation and review the country’s health care system.

Cabinet Secretary Karlo Nograles said under the modified community quarantine from April 16 onwards, there must be an isolation of persons under investigations/persons under monitoring, as well as the elderly, pregnant women, and non-earners.

Nograles said the PUIs/PUMs could be isolated in hotels in a one-room per-person setting. Those with mild COVID symptoms will be confined in a coliseum-style setting. Some of the venues considered for this are the World Trade Center and Philippine International Convention Center in Pasay City, and the Rizal Memorial Coliseum along Vito Cruz in Manila.

PLEASE STAY. Police manning a checkpoint in Quezon City hold up placards reminding people to stay at home amid concerns of the spread of the COVID-19 coronavirus in Luzon, which is on the second week of lockdown to contain the spread of the disease. AFP
Meanwhile, severe and critical COVID patients will be confined in hospitals. At this stage, Nograles also said malls will remain closed so that social distancing will continue to be observed.

Businessman Joey Concepcion of RFM Corp. said business revenues are expected to decline by 40 percent this year versus a year ago because of the disruption in business activities nationwide.

Finance Secretary Carlos Dominguez III reiterated the need to collect taxes to fund the stimulus program of the government. Dominguez also appealed to taxpayers who are able to file and pay their taxes early to do so, despite the one-month extension, so that this program can be funded with the least amount of borrowing.

Some businessmen, however, said the government may be forced to extend the enhanced quarantine period if it is unable to flatten the curve on the coronavirus outbreak.

The private sector is waiting for the government to make the “the more responsible” decision as COVID-19 infections continue to soar daily.

San Miguel Corp. president Ramon Ang, for example, urged the government to conduct rapid testing for COVID-19 before lifting the quarantine.

“I think we need to do rapid testing of 100,000 people suspected before we lift it so maybe by May 15,” Ang said when asked for comment whether the Philippines is ready to lift the lockdown.

Jaime Azurin, president of Global Business Power Corp. said he is not in a position to say whether the country is ready to lift the quarantine, stressing that the ECQ is meant to be able to control the spread of the virus and allow the health care system to be able to administer proper care for those affected by coronavirus.

“I am not sure though if government has already flattened the curve of new patients yet. While this may have serious effect on the economy at this time, it is the more responsible decision for the government to take,” Azurin said,

Isidro Consunji, chairman of DMCI Holdings, Inc., for his part, also said he is not qualified to say when the quarantine should be lifted.

But he urged the government to mitigate the impact of the quarantine to the poor.

“The lockdown is very painful for the poor and [its harmful effects] should be minimized,” Consunji said.

Fernandez Martinez, chairman of Eastern Petroleum Corp. also said that food production and logistics supply must go unhampered, which was agreed by everyone “except some very selfish local officials who want to either keep the supply for their locality or harass the producer.”

GE Philippines chief executive officer Emmanuel J.V. de Dios said the Health department and medical experts are in the best position to decide if the quarantine can be lifted.

“For GE’s part, we continue to support our hospital customers with the equipment we have installed,” De Dios said.

Cabinet Secretary Karlo Nograles said on Tuesday that on the question of a possible extension of the lockdown, “science is in charge.”

"The IATF TWG to be led by the Department of Health is directed to convene and finalize the parameters for deciding on the eventual total or partial lifting of the ECQ in Luzon, the possible extension of its duration, or its expansion to other areas outside the contained area, subject to the approval, amendment or modification by the IATF," Nograles said.

The technical working group, Nograles said, will also formulate and present a decision tool for the management of land-based or sea-based overseas Filipino workers who may be repatriated.

Under Resolution No. 17 of the IATF adopted Monday evening, the following were approved:

• The DOH will coordinate with the Department of Transportation and the Department of National Defense to ensure the prompt delivery of personal protective equipment from suppliers or donors to the National Task Force COVID-19 task group on resource management and logistics and, ultimately, to the frontliners on the ground;

• The DOTr will identify maritime vessels that can serve as floating quarantine centers, in coordination with the DOH;

• The Department of Tourism will identify hotels and other similar establishments as quarantine facilities in every region of the country. The Bureau of Quarantine is directed to assess the adequacy of such facilities identified by the DOT;

• The Department of Public Works and Highways, in cooperation with private entities, will complete all the works necessary to convert the Philippine International Convention Center, World Trade Center, the Rizal Memorial Sports Complex, and such other facilities as may be necessary, into fully-functional quarantine facilities;

• Local government units will finalize the identification and furbishing of provincial, city, municipal, and barangay quarantine facilities in accordance with the guidelines issued by the DILG;

• The DOH Centers for Health Development and the regional offices of the DILG, LGUs, as well as the uniformed services, will form composite teams who will serve as personnel in quarantine facilities operated by the national government and LGUs; and

• LGUs must sustain the provision of basic necessities and local transport for their residents; identify appropriate human resources who may aid the national government in conducting intensive contact tracing, assessment, and monitoring of PUMs and PUIs, as well as in the issuance of certificates of completion of 14-day quarantine; and disinfect areas in their respective localities as frequently as necessary.

The IATF recommended to the President a proposal of the Department of Agriculture to import a total of 300,000 metric tons of rice by the Philippine International Trading Corp. through government-to-government arrangements for contingency purposes.

Reports circulating on the social media that the lockdown will be extended for another 60 days are not true, Nograles said.

“The quarantine extension was not true. It’s fake news. With regard to this issue, science is in charge. It should be clear to all,” he said.

He also said it was too early to say if the strict quarantine protocols have flattened the curve of new COVID-19 cases.

The Palace official reiterated the government’s call to the public to be be more understanding and cooperative.

“There are many ways we can help one another as we work to overcome this crisis together––but it all begins with staying home and taking all the necessary precautions to avoid spreading the virus,” he said.

The Department of Health (DOH) has recorded 1,546 confirmed Covid-19 cases.

Meanwhile, the enforcement arm of the IAT reminded police commanders across the country to ensure that no barangay checkpoints would be set up along national highways and provincial roads to establish a uniform implementation of lockdown guidelines.

Joint Task Force Corona Virus Shield (JTF CV Shield) commander Police Lt. Gen. Guillermo Lorenzo Eleazar said the move was in compliance with the order from Interior and Local Government Secretary Eduardo Año to remove all barangay checkpoints along major thoroughfares amid complaints about the different ways that local governments were implementing lockdown guidelines.

Eleazar said barangay checkpoints along national highways and provincial roads have resulted in the delay of the movement of basic commodities and also caused confusion among the people, particularly those exempted from the home quarantine.

“Despite the guidelines issued on the conduct of checkpoints, we still received complaints that some barangay checkpoints are disregarding the IATF rules,” Eleazar said. “Some of these barangay checkpoints are implementing their own rules which are clearly in defiance of the IATF guidelines.”

READ: Rody details response to pandemic

READ: Año favors end to lockdown

READ: Localized lockdown eyed

READ: Duterte suspends classes in Metro manila Until March 14

Topics: lockdown , COVID-19 , Luzon , Economy , Jaime Zobel de Ayala , Rodrigo Duterte , Department of Health , Philippine International Trading Corp , Department of Agriculture , Guillermo Lorenzo Eleazar
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