Lockdown extension: Duterte weighing options

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    President Duterte at the press conference on COVID-19. (Screengrab from RVTM)
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    PRESIDENT Duterte is “evaluating” how best to proceed with government efforts to stop the spread of the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) when the Luzon-wide enhanced community quarantine (ECQ) ends next week.

    Chief Presidential Legal Counsel Salvador Panelo, concurrent presidential spokesman, on Sunday said the President will listen to all opinions and study recommendations related to a full or partial lifting and extension of the lockdown period.

    “The President is all ears and eyes on this unfolding reality and expert opinions. He is evaluating the best option to take that will effectively ensure the success of our war against this wily and faceless global enemy. He will make his decision in due time. In the meantime, we call on our countrymen to be steadfast in our commitment to take care of each other in this imminent threat to our nation’s survival,” Panelo said.

    Cabinet Secretary Karlo Nograles, in a radio interview, said the Inter-Agency Task Force on Emerging Infectious Diseases (IATF-EID) will meet on Monday to discuss, among others, the ECQ deadline on April 12.

    Nograles said a set of parameters to determine whether to extend, lift, or partially lift the ECQ was approved by the IATF last Friday, including: trends in the COVID-19 epidemiological curve like the acceleration or deceleration of new cases, the capacity of the healthcare system, which includes the number and availability of quarantine, isolation, and treatment facilities; the capability to mount contact tracing; the availability of personal protective equipment (PPE) for frontliners; testing capacity of the country; and social, economic, and security factors.

    He said two technical working groups (TWGs) were supposed to come up with additional data during the weekend and present these to the IATF during its meeting this afternoon.

    Nograles said the government is aware that the decision on the lockdown issue should be made before April 12 and they are hoping that the IATF can come up with its recommendations during the meeting and submit this to the President.

    Panelo said there is an emerging consensus from medical experts, businessmen, government officials and other well-meaning individuals that “an extension of two weeks for the enhanced community quarantine or lockdown is necessary as lifting it could be premature as it might wipe out the gains we have so far achieved in containing the virus.”

    Vice President Leni Robredo backed calls to extend the ECQ, but said government should inform the people why the move is necessary to “flatten the curve.”

    Robredo said it is crucial that the information campaign be undertaken effectively “because there will be (public) resistance if they do not understand why there is a need for it.”

    “Sang-ayon ako dahil iyong nakikita natin na mga projections, makakabuti para i-flatten iyong curve kung hahabaan pa ito (I agree with it because of the projections we’re seeing. It will help flatten the curve if it’s extended),” she said.

    Secondly, she said the government needs to ensure that the people’s basic needs are met amid the lockdown, particularly those who are living off their daily wages, because they are the ones who are still trying to go to work and earn money for their families despite the government restrictions.

     NO LENTEN BREAK

     Policemen will remain unrelenting in the implementation of the ECQ, PNP spokesman Brig. Gen. Bernard Banac said in a radio interview, adding: “Our mindset in the implementation of the enhanced community quarantine will be the same (during the Holy Week).”

    Banac appealed to the public anew to remain in their homes during the Lenten season.

    “People should remain in their residence and observe the Lent, the Holy Week through social or online. We can hear mass streamed online by the churches, those are not prohibited,” Banac said.

    Banac said policemen will not allow residents to go out in the streets, except for essential trips to purchase food and medical supplies. “There will be no change in our implementation of our enhanced community quarantine,” he said.

    Interior Secretary Eduardo Año said people take seriously the remaining days of the ECQ.

    “We should take seriously the lockdown. People should follow (the quarantine), don’t go out of your house, protect yourself and the elderly. If you must go out, wear mask and follow the authorities,” Año said.

     THANK YOU

     Robredo thanked President Duterte for defending her and firing Presidential Anti-Corruption Commission (PACC) Commissioner Luna for asking the NBI to investigate her for allegedly “competing” with the government in helping frontliners in the fight against COVID-19.

    “To us, it’s a welcome move because we’re in an extraordinary situation, we shouldn’t tolerate individuals or public officials who are sowing division within government,” Robredo told ANC.

    The Vice President was elated that Duterte, in one of his televised addresses last week, reprimanded Luna and underscored the need for the public to unite to beat the pandemic.

    But while she appreciated the President’s gesture, she admitted that she was “surprised” that the President defended her.

    “Nagulat, in the sense na for a very long time, hindi natin napapakinggan si Presidente na pinagtatanggol tayo (I was surprised in the sense that for a very long time, we hadn’t heard the President defending us),” she said.

    Through its anti-poverty program Angat Buhay and with the help of the private sector, the Office of the Vice President has been providing personal protective equipment (PPE) and free dormitories to health workers and other frontliners, food for police and soldiers at checkpoints, and extraction kits to the Research Institute for Tropical Medicine (RITM).

     ‘TOO CENTRALIZED’

     The Vice President also defended Pasig City Mayor Vico Sotto from the NBI’s move to summon him over alleged violations of the Bayanihan law, saying the LGUs should be given some “elbow room” to address the pandemic in their respective jurisdictions.

    “The NBI’s move is against what we’re encouraging the government to do at a time like this when the government’s decision-making is too centralized,” she said.

    Robredo said the national government should appreciate local officials who are innovating and being creative in finding solutions to serve their constituents instead of reprimanding them. – With Wendell Vigilia and Jocelyn Montemayor

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