Metro Manila, Davao City, and six other areas will remain under general community quarantine (GCQ) up to the end of the year while the rest of the country is under a less strict modified GCQ, President Duterte announced Monday night.
In a public briefing, Duterte said Batangas, Iligan, and Lanao del Sur provinces and the cities of Iloilo and Tacloban are also under GCQ until December 31, 2020 to control the spread of the coronavirus disease over the Christmas holidays.
Davao del Norte will also be under GCQ from Dec. 1, said Duterte's spokesman Harry Roque. The province was not included in the areas the President mentioned in his televised speech.
The rest of the country will be under modified GCQ, which has the least restrictive measures in the country's four-level lockdown system, said Duterte.
Metro Manila mayors had recommended the retention of GCQ in the National Capital Region until the end of 2020 to prevent a possible surge in the number of COVID-19 cases during the holiday season, which is usually marked by festivities and gatherings.
Metro Manila, which accounts for about a third of the country's gross domestic product, has been under GCQ since August, with stricter lockdowns enforced in earlier months as COVID-19 infections rose.
Meanwhile, top government officials must be good role models in observing health protocols amid the COVID-19 pandemic, a former secretary of the Department of Health (DOH) said Monday.
The admonition from former secretary Dr. Paulyn Ubial came after presidential spokesman Harry Roque and Senator Manny Pacquiao were seen during mass gatherings in violation of health protocols against COVID-19.
Roque went to Bantayan Island in Cebu to help promote tourism while Pacquiao went to Batangas to distribute relief goods. Both events violated physical distancing protocols.
Incidents such as these may lead people to believe the health crisis is over, when it is clearly not, Ubial said on ANC’s “Matters of Fact.”
"I think the government, especially the Department of Health, has to remind our top officials about maintaining the health protocols, and making sure that they show this as an example to the public that they are the role models that the public will follow,” she said.
Ubial, who now leads the molecular laboratory of the Philippine Red Cross, also refuted Roque's statement that "general compliance" of COVID-19 protocols were met as the event was held outdoors and the crowd wore masks despite not observing physical distancing.
The virus can still spread through physical contact and if people do not wear their masks properly, Ubial said.
"The chances of viral survival when it's open air is lower but it doesn’t mean [infection] doesn’t happen," Ubial added.
She also urged the government to start relaying to the public the advantages and disadvantages of the upcoming vaccine against COVID-19.
"Don't give people false hope that if you start vaccinating with the COVID-19 vaccine that COVID-19 will disappear. It's still important to have minimum health protocols... even if we start immunization," Ubial said.
She noted there was still a segment of the population that is hesitant about getting inoculated, especially after the Dengvaxia controversy that prompted a dangerous plunge in vaccination rates in the country for other diseases.
"The thing that happened with Dengvaxia, that concept or vaccine hesitancy... that's one of things DOH has to deal with," she said.
Nearly a year into the pandemic, Ubial recommends maintaining the general community quarantine (GCQ) status in high-risk areas such as Metro Manila.
"I think that's the more prudent way to go, especially since the number of cases are not really that low. There's still a possibility of spiking because of the current high number of cases," she said.
The Philippines employs a 4-level community quarantine scheme ranging from the strictest enhanced community quarantine (ECQ) to the most relaxed, the modified general community quarantine or MGCQ.
The quarantine level dictates the type of business activities allowed in a certain area, as well as travel restrictions.
The capital region has been under GCQ since August, with stricter lockdowns enforced in earlier months as COVID-19 infections rose. Select businesses are allowed to operate at full capacity in GCQ areas.
Meanwhile, Paranaque Mayor Edwin Olivarez said Metro Manila mayors have recommended keeping the GCQ status over the National Capital Region, but suggested that the curfew be shortened to make way for Simbang Gabi.
Olivarez is the current chairman of the Metro Manila Council, which has recommended to the President that the GCQ be maintained until the end of the year.
Health Secretary Francisco Duque III on Monday has urged the public to postpone their travel plans to the provinces this holiday season, as COVID-19 remains a health threat.
Duque also urged the public to limit their celebrations to "low-risk" activities to avoid COVID-19 infection.
The DOH earlier urged the public to observe COVID-19 safety precautions especially during the holiday season, which traditionally sees massive shopping crowds and parties left and right.
Guidelines from the DOH include a warning against singing karaoke with people you do not live with and advice to hold celebrations in open spaces.
Duque, during the Laging Handa briefing, encouraged keeping holiday celebrations at home and only with immediate family.
He said Filipino overseas may join in through online platforms.
Duque also said masses may be attended online to avoid going to crowded areas. He discouraged going to places with insufficient ventilation.
As Filipinos emerge from a long lockdown and back into public places, Duque said many may already be forgetting minimum health standards like the wearing of face masks and face shields and observing physical distancing.
“This is important advice. Let’s not set aside safety protocols. Let’s make them a part of our lives,” he said in Filipino.
Researchers from the University of the Philippines who have been tracking the COVID-19 pandemic said they see the country reach half a million infections by the end of December.
The OCTA Research Team, in its latest report, said the number of new daily cases in the country had slightly increased in November.
However, with the holidays right around the corner, the nationwide tally could spike, they warned.
They added that the increase in new cases was brought about by community transmission after the government further opened up the economy.
They also said there was a "deteriorating compliance" with minimum health standards as the public became weary after months of restrictions.
The commander of the Joint Task Force COVID Shield said Monday that police would strictly enforce health protocols in shopping centers and markets as the Christmas season gets underway.
Police Lt. Gen. Cesar Hawthorne Binag said they were deploying more police officers in public places and other areas of convergence to ensure Filipinos were wearing face masks and observing physical distancing.
The DOH on Monday reported 1,773 new COVID-19 cases, bringing to 431,630 the number of infections since the pandemic began.
The total number of recoveries also rose to 398,658, or 92.4 percent of the total cases, after 44 more patients recovered from the respiratory disease.
The death toll climbed to 8,392, or 1.94 percent of the total cases, with 19 new fatalities.
The remaining 24,580, or 5.7 percent of the total cases, are active cases undergoing treatment or quarantine, 83.5 percent of which are mild, 7.5 percent of which are asymptomatic, 3 percent of which are severe, 5.7 percent of which are in critical condition, and 0.31 percent of which are moderate.
Nationwide, of the 1,900 total ICU bed capacity, 59 percent are available; of the 13,500 total isolation bed capacity, 64 percent are available; of the 5,900 total ward bed capacity, 71 percent are available; and of the 2,000 units of ventilators, 83 percent are available.
Also, Senator Christopher Go on Monday urged the public to avoid holding mass gatherings and parties this coming holiday season.
Go said that while he understands the important role of family gatherings during Christmas, he emphasized that the safety and lives of loved ones should be the primordial concern, as these gatherings could spread COVID-19.
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