NEDA: Stricter lockdown not an option

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    Restricted. A resident goes through a checkpoint in a barangay in Malate, one of 16 Manila barangays placed on four days of hard lockdown yesterday due to rising COVID-19 cases (Photo by RHOY COBILLA)

    By ANGELA CELIS and IRMA ISIP

    The National Economic and Development Authority (NEDA) has maintained its position that a stricter, blanket lockdown should no longer be considered, as it expressed support for the localized quarantine measures to address the recent spikes in coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) cases.

    “We recognize the risks associated with the recent spike in COVID-19 cases but reverting back to a stricter and blanket community quarantine is no longer an option knowing how much it has cost the Filipino people in the past year,” Karl Kendrick Chua, NEDA acting secretary, said in a statement yesterday.

    “That is why a careful and calibrated approach is needed to address the sources of highest risks through localized quarantines and additional restrictions, so that jobs or livelihoods will not be affected,” he added.

    Ramon Lopez, secretary of the Department of Trade and Industry told DZRH in an interview
    Resolution No. 104 issued by the Inter-agency Task Force (IATF) on the Management of Emerging Infectious Diseases was carefully studied and deliberately chose to limit the restrictions to non-essential and high-risk activities without going into modified enhanced community quarantine where more establishments will be closed.

    Lopez said the IATF resolution — which prohibits of high-risk and unnecessary activities, limits movements within the National Capital Region and Cavite, Bulacan, Rizal as a bubble, and bars persons below 18 and above 65 from going outside of their homes — would help bring down the number of COVID infections.

    NEDA said it supports the localized quarantine measures in areas showing high transmission rates as directed by the resolution.

    “The recent surge in the number of cases compels us to act swiftly to slow down the infection rate. In order to save lives from COVID-19 and non-COVID-19 threats, the IATF recommended to add restrictions in specific areas without constraining the overall mobility of people,” Chua said.

    “Over the next two weeks, we will strengthen the implementation of the ‘Prevent, Detect, Isolate, Treat, and Recover’ or PDITR strategy and continue rolling out the vaccination program. We have already started inoculating our medical front liners last March 1, 2021 and we aim to provide vaccines to at least 70 million Filipinos this year, or around 100 percent of the entire adult population. We will do all of this while ensuring that majority of the people can still safely work, earn a living, and access basic services while adhering to minimum health and safety standards,” he added.

    The country has been in varying levels of quarantine over the past year. As a result, an estimated 16.4 million people have experienced hunger nationwide. In the National Capital Region alone, 3.2 million individuals or one in four people are hungry. There are also 506,000 jobless people.

    “We need to consider that strict quarantines previously imposed entailed huge income losses and hardships, especially among the poor. The IATF Resolution No. 104 allows key businesses and services to operate, instead of imposing a blanket and prolonged community quarantine which could cost some P2.1 billion in wages daily,” Chua said.

    The NEDA chief explained the relaxation of quarantine restrictions from April to October 2020 helped restore six million jobs. At the time, stricter compliance with health standards allowed for a safe reopening of the economy without causing a spike in cases in the last quarter of 2020, allowing more Filipinos to earn income and feed their families.

    “We assure the public that the IATF is committed to aggressively pursuing solutions to manage risks and swiftly control the increase in COVID-19 cases, without restraining the economy at the expense of the most vulnerable in our population,” Chua said.

    He added the focus on COVID-19 has also shifted attention away from other critical sicknesses and diseases.

    According to the results of a preliminary study from the Center for Global Development, PhilHealth claims for high burden diseases such as cancer, diabetes and hypertension have dropped by 75 percent during the pandemic.

    This means that majority of the people are deferring health treatment due to lack of resources for healthcare, mobility restrictions, or the fear of getting infected in hospitals, NEDA said.

    “The issue is not simply economy versus health. It is about addressing the total health of our people, whether from COVID, non-COVID sickness, or hunger. Rest assured that the government’s goal, first and foremost, is to save lives,” Chua said.