Health Secretary Francisco Duque III on Sunday said the government still cannot relax the Luzon-wide lockdown to win the battle against COVID-19.
“We cannot relax all the measures laid down and implemented,” Duque said in an interview over radio dzBB.
He also said he could not say how long the stringent measures would remain in place.
At the moment, it is still difficult to say because we are still looking at the data, the numbers,” he said.
He said the lockdown in China lasted up to 55 days before the transmission of the virus came under control.
The Philippines, he said, can learn from specialists from different countries, including China.
He said the Inter-Agency Task Force for the Management of Emerging Infectious Diseases authorized the visit of a 12-man team from China who will help the country fight COVID-19 by providing technical advice on epidemic prevention and control and sharing medical treatment experience.
“The Chinese doctors will share with us their best practices that we can use, the measures they used to effectively manage COVID-19 cases, and the medicines they tried,” Duque said.
Health Undersecretary Maria Rosario Vergeire said the team was expected to arrive on Sunday. The group of doctors and nurses will stay for two weeks to “observe and give recommendations” on such areas as infection prevention and control, critical care and laboratory management, she said.
The Chinese Embassy in Manila said the delegation would be led by Director-General Zheng Huiwen and include physicians from the First Affiliated Hospital of Fujian Medical University, Fujian Provincial Hospital, Fujian University of Traditional Chinese Medicine, and Fujian Provincial Center for Disease Control and Prevention.
Their expertise covers critical care medicine, infectious disease control, internal medicine and clinical integration of traditional Chinese and Western medicine.
She said the group would visit the Research Institute for Tropical Medicine in Muntinlupa City, San Lazaro Hospital in Manila and the Lung Center of the Philippines in Quezon City.
Duque also said the DOH needs to conduct more testing to have an accurate picture of the COVID-19 situation in the Philippines.
Earlier, Secretary Carlito Galvez Jr., chief implementer of the national plan against COVID-19, said they are still studying if the enhanced community quarantine will be extended.
READ: Government eyes forced quarantine
He noted that the lockdown has succeeded in slowing down the spread of the virus.
“With that, we see a possibility of having the 15 more days,” Galvez said.
He quickly added, however, that it was premature to announce this because the scientists, doctors and specialists still needed to weigh in on the decision.
“It is difficult to rush to normalcy and the go back to the lockdown. There were countries, which had two or three lockdowns because they relaxed. The surge of new cases returned,” Galvez said.
The enhanced community quarantine in the entire Luzon took effect on March 17. President Rodrigo Duterte said the quarantine period would last until April 14.
Cabinet Secretary Karlo Nograles, spokesman for the Inter-Agency Task Force on Emerging Infectious Diseases said the government has set parameters on whether the Luzon-wide enhanced community quarantine will be lifted or extended.
• Trends in the COVID-19 epidemiological curve, which include, among others, the doubling time, acceleration, or deceleration of new cases;
• Capacity of the health care system, which includes, among others, the number and availability of quarantine, isolation, and treatment facilities; the capability to mount contact tracing; availability of Personal Protective Equipment to frontliners, and the testing capacity of the country;
• Social factors;
• Economic factors; and
• Security factors
“For this purpose, the Department of Health is hereby directed to convene all concerned agencies and to finalize the aggregation and analysis of all relevant data applicable to the contained area, subject to the deliberation of the IATF and final determination by the President,” Nograles said.
Takeshi Kasai, Western Pacific regional director for the World Health Organization had cautioned against rushing to end the quarantine and halt other public health regulations against COVID-19.
He said the government might have to lift restrictions gradually and not all at once.
Presidential Spokesman Salvador Panelo, meanwhile, said there was an “emerging consensus” among medical experts, businessmen, and government officials that an extension of two weeks for the enhanced community quarantine or lockdown is necessary “as lifting it could be premature as it might wipe out the gains we have so far achieved in containing the virus.”
“The President is all ears and eyes on this unfolding reality and expert opinions. He is evaluating the best option to take that will effectively insure the success of our war against this wily and faceless global enemy. He will make his decision in due time,” he said.
Interior Secretary Eduardo Año on Sunday said experts warned them that lifting the enhanced quarantine could nullify the gains of their initial efforts against COVID-19.
READ: Año favors end to lockdown
He said health professionals and data analysts suggested that these gains should be maintained to avoid another surge of infection cases.
Vice President Leni Robredo also supported an extension of the lockdown.
“I agreed because of the projection that we see. It would be better if we extend [the lockdown] it to flatten the curve,” Robredo told the ANC news channel.
“It is crucial that the people understand why it must be done. If they cannot, there would be resistance,” she said, adding that it was crucial, too, that people’s basic needs are addressed during the lockdown.
The Makati Business Club, on the other hand, said a gradual lifting of the restrictions was “the most likely scenario.”
MBC president Edgar Chua told ANC there could be “some relaxation” for business that can ensure the safety of their workers and communities.
Chua said manufacturing and businesses process outsourcing or BPOs could be allowed to open first.
Samar Rep. Edgar Mary Sarmiento said the lockdown could be applied selectively so that the restrictions could be lifted in COVID-19-free zones to ease the economic difficulties of the enhanced community quarantine.
Sarmiento said his proposal would allow economic activities in the areas that are considered free from COVID-19 to slowly come back to life while ensuring that the contagion is contained and isolated only in cities and towns that are still considered hotspots.
“This modified system basically means that we will have areas that would remain under ECQ but we will also have areas where businesses will be allowed to open and allow their residents to go back to their normal lives. These areas will maintain a closed border and continue to observe social distancing as an extra precaution,” Sarmiento said.
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