BY NOEL TALACAY
MAJORITY of Metro Manila mayors favor relaxing the restrictions imposed in the National Capital Region (NCR) and putting the region under modified general community quarantine (MGCQ) next month.
In a radio interview yesterday morning, Navotas Mayor Toby Tiangco said nine mayors voted in favor of placing Metro Manila under MGCQ, while eight others insisted on extending the current general community quarantine (GCQ) level for another month.
Tiangco’s announcement was confirmed by Benhur Abalos, the chairman of the Metropolitan Manila Development Authority (MMDA) and spokesman of the Metro Manila Council (MMC) who said: “This is the official position of the MMC, we will recommend it to the Inter-Agency Task Force (IATF) to place NCR under MGCQ.”
Abalos refused to give details on how the mayors voted, which happened during the MMC meeting on Wednesday night.
Tiangco said the voting took place after the mayors were briefed by officials from the Department of Trade and Industry and the National Economic and Development Authority (NEDA) on the importance of easing restrictions to boost the country’s economy that has been crippled by the closure of businesses due to the pandemic.
Tiangco said the mayors chose between MGCQ and GCQ but under both classifications, only people aged 15 to 65 years will be allowed to go outside their homes.
“After the explanation and the questions of the mayors last night, the mayors cast their votes,” Tiangco said.
NEDA chief Karl Kendrick Chua had earlier proposed to put the whole country under MGCQ starting March to further jumpstart the economy.
The MMC decision comes amid the warning of the independent OCTA Research Team that Metro Manila, the epicenter of the pandemic, would see a spike in COVID-19 cases once community restrictions are eased.
In its February 17 COVID-19 Monitoring Report, the OCTA said: “If restrictions in NCR are relaxed to very loose levels, the region will be under a constant threat of a surge due to the increased mobility of people, reduced social distancing, and diminished compliance with health protocols, as was observed at the outset of the December holidays.”
“This potential threat will always be present in a large and highly dense metro area, such as the NCR, even with compliance with health protocols by most of its residents,” it added.
It said the numbers in Metro Manila may go as high as 2,400 cases per day, much like back in August 2020.
“The NCR will reach 2,400 new cases per day by March 26, a window of just 36 days. Note that 2,400 cases per day was the level in NCR in August 2020 when the pandemic became unmanageable and NCR had to be placed under a stricter quarantine to curb transmissions,” said the OCTA.
OCTA appealed to the IATF to defer putting Metro Manila under MGCQ.
“While we recognize and support the need to jumpstart the economy and create livelihood for our citizens, at this time, the proposal to shift the NCR to MGCQ by March 2021 amidst the backdrop of a more contagious and lethal UK variant spreading in the regions is not just risky but also contrary to sensible epidemic management,” it said.
Meanwhile, in a televised public briefing, WHO Representative to the Philippines Dr. Rabindra Abeyasinghe advised the government to cautiously balance between the economy and health in deciding on the easing of restrictions.
“For me, there is still a need to maintain these restrictions. But that doesn’t mean that we cannot loosen up key areas where the economy will benefit. But it has to be done in a very targeted manner,” he added.
Otherwise, Abeyasinghe said the country would risk seeing a “wholescale overwhelming of the healthcare system”. – With Gerard Naval