PRESIDENTIAL spokesman Harry Roque on Wednesday said Metro Manila should expect a change in its community quarantine classification as the government “invigorates” its efforts to curb the spread of the coronavirus disease (COVID-19).
“No, it’s not going to be status quo. Nothing will be status quo from this classification. Things will change,” Roque said when asked if the region’s general community quarantine (GCQ) level will remain the same or would revert to modified enhanced community quarantine (MECQ) by August 1.
Status quo is a Latin phrase that means the existing state of affairs.
In an interview with CNN Philippines, Roque was asked if there will be changes in the current GCQ in Metro Manila amid the continued spike in COVID-19 cases and decreasing critical care capacity especially of hospitals in the National Capital Region.
The spokesman said President Duterte will announce today,
Thursday, the new quarantine levels for August 1 to 15.
The Inter-agency Task Force for the Management of Emerging Infectious Diseases (IATF-EID) met on Tuesday and discussed new quarantine classifications for August. Task force members later met with Metro Manila mayors for consultation.
Roque said the IATF recommendation will be finalized and submitted to the President on Thursday as local government units were given one day to appeal the preliminary recommendations for the quarantine levels.
He said the quarantine status would continue to be based on the latest data on case doubling time and critical care capacity.
“I cannot preempt the President. But let’s put it this way: Sometimes we have to rely less on classifications. We need to be more innovative in our response,” he said.
Roque said Metro Manila would become a “living experiment” for new government strategies aimed at radically controlling the spread the coronavirus.
Roque said the government is confident the approaches will be “successful at, and it will be something that we can be proud of.”
To date, the case doubling rate in Metro Manila has improved to 8.9 days, higher than the previous 6.7 to 7 days that prompted authorities to retain the region’s GCQ status from July 16 to 31.
Roque said critical care capacity, however, has become a concern because about 80 percent of hospital beds, especially intensive care unit beds, are already occupied. As of July 27, ICU beds in NCR are 69 percent occupied, isolation beds have an 82 percent occupancy rate, ward beds at 89 percent, and mechanical ventilators at 46 percent utilization rate.
Roque expressed confidence that as long as the doubling rate is under control, the government can still address the need to increase the number of hospital beds and mechanical ventilator needs.
He said government can build more isolation centers to increase the number of beds for mild and asymptomatic patients who cannot stay home unless they have their own bedroom and bathroom, and start referring severe and critical patients to hospitals in provinces or towns that are close to Metro Manila, like those located in the Calabarzon and Central Luzon regions.
INCREASE TESTING, IMPROVE TRACING
Roque said the government is reinvigorating its response against COVID-19 through intensified testing, tracing, isolation, and treatment.
He said the government, which targets to do 30,000 actual testing a day, is expected to pilot test, through Project Ark, the “pool” swab testing next month. The scheme is seen to test more people and lower the cost of testing.
Roque said the “pool” testing involves swabbing and can benefit 10 persons at a time. He said if the cost of the PCR swab test costs P3,000 a kit, it would only cost each person in the pool P300.
If the pool test result shows negative, everyone in the group is negative for COVID-19. If the pool test yields a positive result, everyone in the pool will undergo individual PCR tests.
Roque said to complement the massive testing activities, the government is also intensifying its tracing method, which aims to trace contacts of infected persons up to the third degree.
He said apart from government hired contact-tracers, the health department would also ask volunteers for help.
The country targets to test up to 10 million people by 2021 and immediately isolate those who are infected and trace those that they had been in contact with to contain the spread of the pandemic.
The Bureau of Immigration’s (BI) main office in Intramuros, Manila will remain closed until Thursday so employees can undergo rapid antibody testing for COVID-19. The office was locked down on Monday after three employees tested positive.
Immigration Commission Jaime Morente said only about half of the 700 employees assigned at the main office were tested on Mondayv and Tuesday.
“The General Services Section also requested that they be given ample time to complete the disinfection and sanitation of the entire four-storey building and its premises,” Morente said.
Despite the shutdown of its main office, Morente said the BI’s satellite and extension offices at SM Aura Mall and the PEZA building in Taguig city, SM North in Quezon city and the BOI building in Makati city will remain open to the public.
Morente said all immigration officials and employees at the main office will undergo rapid testing every month beginning this month of August. Periodic disinfection of the offices will also be conducted.
SUSPENDED JAIL TRANSFERS
The Supreme Court on Wednesday temporarily suspended the transfer of convicted inmates from Bureau of Jail Management and Penology (BJMP) detention facilities to the Bureau of Corrections (BuCor) to prevent the spread of COVID-19 among inmates.
In a circular dated July 29, Court Administrator Jose Midas Marquez said the move was based on the request of BuCor Director General Gerald Bantag last July 22 for first and second level trial courts to temporarily suspend the issuance of commitment orders for the transfer of convicted inmates from BJMP facilities to the BuCor.
In his request, Bantag said a temporary suspension of the transfer of inmates to their custody “would prevent the further contamination of COVID-19 among persons deprived of liberty (PDLs) and to minimize the movement of PDLs from BJMP to the Bureau of Corrections.”Marquez said the suspension would remain until August 31 this year.
“All convicted PDLs who should otherwise been committed to the BuCor shall in the meantime remain and be committed in the BJMP jail units,” Marquez said.
Last July 21, the SC also directed all trial court judges to order the detention of suspected criminal offenders in detention facilities of the Philippine National Police instead of sending them to cramped BJMP-run facilities.
Marquez said the directive is effective until August 31 unless extended “if warranted.” — With Ashzel Hachero