BY RAYMOND AFRICA and IRMA ISIP
TRADE Secretary Ramon Lopez wants more businesses to reopen up to 100 percent capacity even in areas under general community quarantine (GCQ) to revive the economy which has been badly affected by the lockdowns imposed to control the transmission of the new coronavirus disease.
During yesterday’s Senate hearing into the proposed P22 billion budget of the Department of Trade and Industry (DTI) and its attached agencies, Lopez told senators he has made his recommendations to the Inter-Agency Task Force for the Management of Emerging Infectious Diseases (IATF-EID) and is awaiting the approval of President Duterte.
Lopez said allowing more businesses to resume full operations will allow more workers to get back to work and start earning again.
“I’m happy with GCQ. I’m in favor of modified GCQ for the purpose of reopening the economy. As I propose this I made sure to clarify there is no easing of enforcement of minimum health standards. The MGCQ, as far as our definition is concerned, should continue to enforce the programs on granular lockdowns, trace, isolate, test, and treat, and also the minimum health standards,” Lopez said.
“The only thing we want to change is the reopening of more sectors for the workers because I am (not only) concerned on the poverty, (but) also on the hunger, so that our workers will have their jobs back. So, the way I look at it, Mr. Chairman, even if we have areas still under GCQ, at least we can open some more of the economy,” he also said.
Lopez said companies engaged in legal and accounting/financial, film, science and research, music, photography, recruitment and placement of overseas Filipino workers, and advertising – which are all presently operating at 50 percent capacity – can already go full blast.
Other safe jobs and services include: management consultancy, architecture and engineering, computer programming, publishing and printing, wholesale retail trade services, repair of motor vehicles, motorcycles and bicycles, malls and other commercial centers, hardwares, clothing and accessories, bookstores, baby infant care supplies, pet care supplies, IT Communications and electronic equipment, flower and jewelry stores, music and toy stores, art galleries, firearms and ammunition trading (subject to PNP regulation) and public private construction projects.
Lopez stressed, though, that the full reopening of the businesses are subject to strict observance of minimum health protocols, such as the wearing of face masks and face shields, physical distancing and hand hygiene and disinfection.
Under a GCQ status, human movements are limited to accessing essential goods and services, and for work in offices or industries already permitted to operate.
Persons below 21 and those who are above 60, and those with co-morbidities or other health risks, and pregnant women are required to remain at home at all times unless they have to buy essentials and avail of services, or are allowed to work in permitted industries.
Under an MGCQ setting, all persons are allowed to go out of their residences.
On public transport under the GCQ setting, road, rail, maritime, and aviation sectors operate at reduced operational and vehicle capacity. Maintaining a one-meter physical distancing is a must in public transports.
Also under MGCQ, operational transportation units operate under strict guidelines issued by the Department of Transportation.
The Metro Manila Council (MMC) yesterday opted not to disclose to the public the recommendation it made to the IATF in relation to the unified community quarantine status of the National Capital Region after September 30.
The MMC, comprised of the mayors of the 16 cities and one municipality in the NCR, is the governing and policy-making body of the Metropolitan Manila Development Authority (MMDA).
Jojo Garcia, general manager of the MMDA and concurrent MMC spokesman, said metro mayors are leaving it to the task force whether or not to make public their recommendation. “Hence, we will let the IATF decide on the matter with finality,” Garcia said.
During the two-hour meeting of MMC and IATF members on Sunday evening, Garcia said it was agreed that home quarantine will no longer be allowed for individuals who will test positive of COVID-19 through PCR/swab testing. All sick patients will be brought to government-run isolation facilities or health institutions, depending on the gravity of their status.
Five cities in Metro Manila, namely Manila, Caloocan, Marikina, Quezon, and Valenzuela have been allowed to allow dine-in service at 30 percent capacity in food establishments located in their jurisdictions even after curfew hours.
Garcia said the local executives and Cabinet leaders likewise agree that police augmentation in the provinces will be gradually withdrawn and the police officers allowed to go back to their original places of assignments.
If it will just be based on critical care utilization rate, the NCR will likely remain under GCQ, according to the Department of Health (DOH).
In a televised press briefing, Health Undersecretary Leopoldo Vega believes that the decongestion experienced in Metro Manila hospitals is insufficient to convince the IATF to see a downgrade to modified GCQ.
“If we really want to be deescalated to MGCQ, the critical care utilization rate should be brought down to below 60 percent or the lower risk category,” said Vega, adding:
“Otherwise, if we remain at this level, particularly our ICU bed occupancy, we will likely remain at GCQ.”
Data from the DOH shows that, as of September 26, ICU beds have a 63 percent occupancy rate, while isolation beds have a 51 percent occupancy rate, and 54 percent occupancy rate for ward beds.
Vega said this is the reason why there is a continued necessity for public and private hospitals to increase their bed allocation for COVID-19 patients.
He noted how the DOH has mandated all private hospitals to allocate 20 percent of its bed capacity for COVID-19 patients.
On the other hand, all public hospitals must set aside 30 percent of their bed capacity for COVID-19 patients.
“Currently, the percentage (for bed allocation) is at 19 to 20 percent for private hospitals, and 30 to 32 percent for government hospitals,” said the health official.
“We need to be certain that in the event of a surge in COVID-19 patients, we will be able to accommodate them. In the hospital beds that we have allocated,” said Vega. – With Noel Talacay and Gerard Naval