PRESIDENT Duterte has approved the extension of the enhanced community quarantine (ECQ) in Luzon until 11:59 p.m. of April 30 to prevent any spike in the number of coronavirus infections in the country and enable government to continue to identify, isolate, and treat persons infected with the novel coronavirus, Cabinet Secretary Karlo Nograles said on Tuesday.
Nograles said the President made formal his approval of the ECQ extension after he announced in a late Monday night public address that he was “inclined” to approve the extension of the lockdown, which is originally set to end 11:59 p.m. of April 12.
Nograles is the spokesman of the Inter-Agency Task Force for the Management of Emerging and Infectious Diseases (IATF-EID), which is in charge of establishing guidelines related to the government’s campaign to control the spread of the coronavirus disease (COVID-19).
Nograles said the extension covers only Luzon as the IATF sees no need to extend the lockdown to the Visayas and Mindanao for now. He said the provinces are likewise not obliged to follow the ECQ imposed in Luzon.
Nograles said that under the extended lockdown, all exemptions granted by the Office of the President or the IATF shall continue to be in effect.
“Provided further that such extension of the ECQ shall be without prejudice to the discretion of the President to relax the implementation of the ECQ in some local jurisdictions, or the granting of exemptions in favor of certain sectors, as public health considerations and food security may warrant,” he added.
Nograles said the extension is necessary to give the government more time to determine the impact of the ECQ, especially its effectivity in limiting the number of people that can be infected by keeping them at home.
He said the period would also give the government time to improve and increase health capacity in Luzon and other areas through ramping up of COVID-19 testing to 8,000 up to 10,000 tests a day with a turnaround time of 24 hours; improve contact tracing; identify, isolate and treat coronavirus positive patients, as well as patients under investigation and monitoring (PUIs and PUMs); and further increase quarantine sites and laboratory processing, among others.
Nograles said scientists and health experts have said that the incubation period is usually between five and 14 days, and since the ECQ started only in the middle of March, the earliest period to determine the effectivity of the lockdown will be from the end of March towards the middle of April.
He said government intends to make a thorough study of the impact and effectivity of the lockdown during the extended period. He said the technical working group of the IATF and experts will submit weekly reports and assessment to the inter-agency body every Monday.
Chief Presidential Legal Counsel and concurrent presidential spokesman Salvador Panelo said the President, in coming up with the decision, recognized that the lockdown has helped reduce the number of infected patients because more people are staying home.
Panelo said no one really knows if he or she is already a carrier unless he or she undergoes testing. He said a carrier could transmit the virus just by being in close contact with other people especially if they are in public areas like markets and public transport.
There were 3,764 COVID-19 cases as of Tuesday.
Panelo said government would rather see the lockdown extended than be sorry and have the gains under the current enhanced community quarantine go to waste.
He lamented that in other countries like Singapore, a relapse occurred due to the premature lifting of lockdowns.
Interior Secretary Eduardo Año said economic factors were among those considered by the IATF when it recommended the extension of the ECQ.
However, Año said government leaders saw that the economy can still withstand more losses until the end of April.
“Kasama iyan sa parameters, economic factors. And based on the computation, kaya pa ng ating bansa ang extension. (That was among the parameters, economic factors. And based on the computation, we can still afford an extension),” he said.
The DILG chief expressed confidence the country can recover from the economic losses.
“Ibig sabihin, if there are losses in the economy kaya pa iyang i-recover. We need to do this in order to really meet the first objective of slowing down the virus spread, actually stop the spread. (It means, if there are losses in the economy, we can still recover. We need to this in order to really meet the first objective of slowing down the virus, actually stop the virus spread),” Año said.
Año said the economy might suffer a meltdown if a relapse occurs when the ECQ is prematurely lifted.
“We all want everything to go back to normal yet we cannot risk further transmissions or a relapse,” Año said, adding: “This extension is part of the effort of the national government to flatten the curve of COVID-19 transmissions in the country. The DILG fully supports the President’s decision.”
“Kung hindi natin ito in-extend, magre-relapse tayo, babalik tayo dun sa katulad ng Italy at saka Spain. Mag-i-spike na kaagad tayo kasi people will move, people will be comfortable and everybody will move so ‘yung virus will spread, mag-spike tayo to five digits kaagad (If we do not extend, we’ll have a relapse like Italy and Spain. We’ll have spikes in the number of COVID-19 cases because people will move, people will be comfortable and everybody will move again so the virus will spread. We’ll have a spike of up to five digits immediately),” he also said.
Año said the government is doubling its efforts to increase its capacity to attend to COVID-19 cases, PUIs and PUMs because it cannot afford a situation where the number of patients in critical condition will breach the 1,000 mark, specifically in the National Capital Region.
“As of now, we only have 500 ventilators in NCR. If there is a sudden spike, if the critical cases surge to more than 1,000 patients, we’ll just be like Italy: we will forced to choose who will live and who will die. We don’t want that to happen,” he added.
Presidential adviser for entrepreneurship Joey Concepcion said more than 90 percent of the business sector support the extension of the Luzon lockdown.
Concepcion said private businesses agree that the extension is needed so as not to waste the sacrifices and gains been made in the campaign against the COVID-19 during the lockdown period.
Senate President Vicente Sotto III backed the extension of the ECQ.
“The April 30 extension seems to be reasonable considering the fact that DOH has no clear projection yet of how things are evolving. Better safe than sorry! The extension is to solve the health concerns on the spread of the virus. Re budget, there is no problem at all as far as I know. Government can solve the needs for funds,” Sotto said in a message send to members of the media.
Sen. Juan Edgardo Angara, in a Twitter post, said the prolonged ECQ is justified since “testing can catch up, we can gauge real public health situation,” adding that government must assure, however, that “basic needs must be delivered.”
Sen. Christopher Go said the extension of the ECQ will give the government the chance to effectively isolate the confirmed patients from the rest of the community and eventually pave the way for the eventual ridding of the disease.
Go, however, reiterated that the public should avoid going out of their houses unless necessary.
Sen. Panfilo Lacson said the country’s ECQ extension poses a bigger challenge to the government, especially the health and economic clusters in the Cabinet.
“More than the availability of funds, the biggest challenge is in the roll out or distribution of the social amelioration funds to cover as many families hit by the ongoing lockdown. Funds can be made available through savings, grants, and loans,” Lacson said.
Sen. Francis Tolentino said the people will have to fully support the ECQ extension to achieve its goal of stopping the spread of COVID-19.
“We have to support the extension of the ECQ for the general welfare of society, but hand in hand with the health measures we should prepare for an immediate economic recovery program as a pillar of societal resuscitation,” Tolentino said.
Sen. Risa Hontiveros lauded the President for heeding the IATF’s recommendation. “Data clearly shows that our sacrifice the past month will all be for naught if the quarantine is lifted next week as the trend indicates more cases will be recorded in the coming days,” she said.
Top security officials are also in favor of President Duterte’s decision to extend the ECQ.
“The AFP supports the Commander-in-Chief’s decision to extend the Luzon-wide ECQ,” said AFP chief Gen. Felimon Santos Jr.
“We shall carry out our tasks with the same fervor and undiminished dedication we had since Day 1. We helped prevent the spread of the virus; we are determined to save more lives whether in the checkpoints, in the quarantine areas, or in the communities,” said Santos.
PNP chief Gen. Archie Gamboa said the PNP expected the extension of the ECQ. He said he is not seeing any problem on the part of the policemen continuing with their duties and responsibilities to put an end to the virus.
“Actually, the only challenge would be to manage our human resources because our policemen are not robots and we already have infections,” said Gamboa, referring to the policemen who have tested positive for COVID-19. Two police officers have died due to the disease.
“We are not robots, there are infections within our ranks, so we need to have excellent human resource planning and deployment,” added Gamboa.
PNP deputy chief for operations and concurrent Joint Task Force Corona Virus Shield commander Lt. Gen. Guillermo Eleazar said he fully supports the extension.
“As our crisis managers in this time of pandemic, we leave it up to them all the decisions on what is best for our country,” said Eleazar, whose force is the enforcement arm of the IAF-EID.
Eleazar said the task force is “fully committed to ensure that all the guidelines under the Enhanced Community Quarantine are strictly and properly implemented on the ground.”
“On the part of the JTF CoViD Shield, all we hear from our people on the ground are expression of support of the extension because they all know that their sacrifices are not only for their families and friends but for the entire Filipino people. This is a battle worth fighting for,” he said. – With Victor Reyes, Raymond Africa and Noel Talacay