PRESIDENT Duterte yesterday thumbed down the proposal to place the entire country under the least strict modified general community quarantine (MGCQ).
Long-time ally and now Sen. Christopher Go was the first to tell reporters covering Malacañang about the President’s decision when he said in a message sent through the Viber application: “No vaccine roll out, no MGCQ muna – PRRD.”
This was later confirmed by presidential spokesman Harry Roque in a text message:
“President Rodrigo Roa Duterte gave his directive to the Cabinet that the Philippines would not be placed under Modified General Community Quarantine (MGCQ) unless there is a rollout of vaccines. 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 the President wants the vaccination program to start the soonest possible time in order to ease community quarantines in the country.
Go said Duterte told members of the Cabinet that it is not in the best interest of the country to shift to MGCQ now. He added the President likewise rebuffed the proposal of Education Secretary Leonor Briones to resume face-to-face classes in public schools.
Go quoted the President as saying that he “cannot in conscience allow these (MGCQ, face to face classes) things to happen and something might get wrong.”
He added that Duterte expressed confidence that the Filipinos and the economic managers will understand the situation and his decision.
The Inter-Agency Task Force for the Management of Emerging Infectious Diseases (IATF) had recommended placing the whole country under MGCQ starting next month, including areas that are currently under general community quarantine like Metro Manila after the same was endorsed by the Metro Manila Council.
The National Economic and Development Authority was the first to propose last week the placing of all provinces nationwide under MGCQ to further open up the economy and boost public expenditure.
Earlier in the day, Health Secretary Francisco Duque III said the entire Philippines was already prepared to shift to MGCQ amid the continued threat of COVID-19.
In a televised public briefing, Duque said he believes that the almost one year lockdown imposed on the entire country, especially in Metro Manila, is already enough preparation time for the shift to the most loose level of quarantine restrictions.
“I think we are ready. I can say that because, in the one year, we have managed to keep our infection rate manageable. When I say manageable, it is at a level that has not overwhelmed the health care system,” said Duque.
Add to this, he said, is the fact that the projected surge in cases during the holiday season, the reduction of the physical distancing in public transportation, and the lowering of the minimum age allowed to go out did not happen.
“The expected rise did not happen. So, the decision to shift to MGCQ has been arrived at with the concurrence of the majority of the LGUs of the NCR,” he said.
The health chief said further delaying the shift to MGCQ will already be too costly for the country’s economy.
Asked if he believes that Duterte will approve the IATF-EID recommendation, Duque said he does not want to second guess the President.
“The President also has other sources of information not limited to the IATF-EID. We will support him 100 percent (with his decision),” said Duque.
Duque said that in the event that the country shifts to MGCQ, he said it is imperative for all LGUs to step up in implementing their COVID-19 response, which includes early detection, isolation, treatment, and contact tracing strategies, among others.
“Moving forward, we really have to depend more and more on effective localized or granular lockdowns by LGUs,” he said.
The DOH head cited as an example the imposition of localized lockdowns in Pasay City, where a surge in COVID-19 cases has been observed between February 18 to 20.
“This is the right action, to implement localized lockdown in the concerned sitios, purok, or streets, instead of the whole barangay or city. What they are doing is correct,” said Duque.
He said the DOH will closely monitor the development in Pasay City, wherein the average number of cases per day grew from 28 to 86 or a 203 percent increase.
Rhodora Pimlott, Pasay’s Central Command Center officer-in-charge, on Sunday placed barangay 171 under a strict 14-day lockdown after four new COVID-19 infections were recorded on Sunday. The city government has earlier placed 33 barangays under lockdown until March 5 due to the high number of positive cases in the areas.
Pimlott said the city government is now preparing the Burgos and Villamor Airbase elementary schools as backup quarantine facilities.
Residents who are COVID-19 positive are now housed in government-managed quarantine facilities, with “some of them in MOA (Mall of Asia), Pasay City Sports Complex, and Folk Arts Theater.”
Pimlott said most of those who tested positive are workers who caught the virus in their work places.
As of Monday, Pasay City has 361 active cases.
Meanwhile, Duque said he has given the DOH Central Visayas until Friday to complete the assessment of the situation in Cebu City. “They requested for more time to so we gave them until Friday to look into their current response measures for COVID-19,” said Duque.
In particular, the DOH – Region 7 will check on their prevailing testing, isolation, contact tracing, and quarantine measures.
Last week, Cebu City was found to have the most number of new cases per day with an average of 202. – With Gerard Naval and Noel Talacay