President Rodrigo Duterte on Monday ruled out easing quarantine restrictions across the country, saying this would not happen until mass vaccination against COVID-19 begins.
The decision quashed a recommendation to place the entire country — including regions with high COVID-19 cases such as Metro Manila -- under a modified general community quarantine (MGCQ), the least restrictive of four quarantine levels.
“The Chief Executive recognizes the importance of re-opening the economy and its impact on people’s livelihoods. However, the President gives higher premium to public health and safety,” Roque said.
Egged on by members of the President’s economic team, nine out of 17 Metro Manila mayors last week recommended a shift from the current GCQ to an MGCQ in a bid to revive the economy, which has been devastated by the COVID-19 pandemic.
Vaccines were supposed to begin arriving in the middle of February, but managers of the government response to the pandemic have been unable to meet their delivery deadline, blaming a global shortage.
Earlier, Duterte’s former aide, Senator Christopher Go, said the President was not prepared to announce an MGCQ for the entire country.
He is also not ready to allow face-to-face classes, he added.
“MGCQ is not to the best interest of the country. Let’s start with the vaccinations,” Go quoted the President as saying.
Duterte said he was confident that Filipinos and his economic managers who proposed the shift to MGCQ last week to improve the economy and to end hunger for the millions who lost their jobs during the pandemic would understand.
Earlier, University of the Philippines researchers who have been tracking the pandemic warned that if Metro Manila were put under an MGCQ and hit by a variant of the coronavirus that affected Cebu City, it would take just 36 days for the region to return to the situation in August, when the country was reporting an average of 2,400 cases a day.
The OCTA Research group also noted an upward trend in Metro Manila infections.
COVID-19 cases in Pasay City more than tripled from Thursday to Saturday compared to the previous seven-day average, the OCTA Research Team said on Sunday.
OCTA also said the average number of new COVID-19 cases in the National Capital Region over the past three days increased 45 percent compared to the daily average from the previous seven days.
From just 28 cases from Feb. 11 to 17, the number of new confirmed infections in Pasay rose to 86 from Feb.18 to 20, the independent research group said.
The Philippines logged 2,288 new cases of COVID-19 Monday, bringing the total to 563,456, as six laboratories failed to submit their data on time, the Department of Health (DOH) reported.
Six new fatalities brought the total death toll to 12,094, which is 2.15 percent of total cases.
The DOH also reported that 33 persons recently recovered, bringing the total recoveries to 522,874, which is 92.8 percent of the total.
This left 28,488 active cases, which is 5.1 percent of the total number of cases. Of the active cases, 88.1 percent were mild; 5.7 percent were asymptomatic; 2.7 percent were critical; 2.6 percent were severe; and 0.85 percent were moderate.
Vice President Leni Robredo over the weekend also questioned the basis for the MGCQ proposal, saying virus transmission remained high while there are no vaccines yet.
But, Duque expressed confidence that the country is ready for a shift to an MGCQ despite a rise in infections and the detection of coronavirus variants and mutations.
“I think we are ready. I can say that because after one year, we have managed to keep our infection rate manageable… It is at a level that has not overwhelmed the health care system,” Duque told CNN Philippines.
Duque said local government units have been “increasingly effective” at managing transmission, citing the increase in COVID-19 cases after the holiday season and the feast of the Black Nazarene that turned out to be weaker than expected.
He also said localized lockdowns, not sweeping community quarantines, are “the way to go.”
“You cannot discount the fact that you will have some spikes. Now we see that happening in Pasay, in Navotas, but I think the interventions of early detection, isolation, treatment, and re-integration strategies are very much in place,” Duque said.
The Pasay City government tightened restrictions in 33 barangays due to a spike in COVID-19 cases.
Last week, National Economic and Development Authority (NEDA) acting Director General Karl Chua proposed that the entire country be placed under the most lenient quarantine status, citing the need to revive the ailing economy and mitigate sickness, hunger, poverty, job and income losses that are rising.
Chua also proposed increasing public transport operations from 50 percent to 70 percent of capacity and gradually expanding the age group allowed to go out.
The NEDA chief also recommended the resumption of face-to-face classes in low-risk areas.
Earlier, Health Undersecretary Maria Rosario Vergeire said local government units (LGUs) should be capable of handling the threat of transmission of COVID-19 if the proposal to place the entire country under MGCQ pushes through.
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