WITH less than 2,000 positive coronavirus disease (COVID-19) cases reported daily and the vaccination program ready to roll out, Trade Secretary Ramon Lopez yesterday said “it is about time” that the community quarantine in Metro Manila is downgraded to a more relaxed status.
In a briefing, Lopez said economic managers are reviewing the region’s current health situation to determine if they can already recommend “to deescalate (or) to relax” the quarantine status imposed in the National Capital Region.
The NCR is under general community quarantine until the end of February.
He noted that President Duterte has already expressed “concern” about the economic situation of the country.
“It’s about time. We have long been under quarantine. By this time, most of us, almost all of our fellowmen, are complying, are already used to the health protocols,” he said.
Lopez reiterated that the economy needs to be opened fully and businesses need to resume full operation and return to its pre-pandemic level, especially after the country went into recession last year with its annual gross domestic product dropping to 9.5 percent following the close to a 9-month long lockdown of Metro Manila, the country’s center of commerce.
The trade chief said that under a more relaxed community quarantine, more people would be willing to go out and spend. He said this holds true for the “family bubble” where parents go out with their kids and spend some time in shopping malls, restaurants and similar establishments.
“We have basis to continue the gradual reopening of our economy: It looks like that our economy is really nearing collapse. We need to start recovering now,” Lopez said
Besides, Lopez said majority of Filipinos are now used to observing minimum health protocols, such as the wearing of face masks and shields and observing physical distancing.
Likewise, the COVID-19 vaccination program is kicking off this month with the arrival of vaccines expected within the next few days.
Lopez said apart from the easing of the community quarantine, he is hoping that the President would reconsider the easing of the age restriction, which had earlier been approved by the Inter-Agency Task Force on the Management of Emerging Infectious Diseases (IATF-EID) but was reversed by Duterte.
He said the easing of the age restriction to 10 years old to 65 years old, from the current 15 years old 65 years old, has only been “paused” following reports that the UK variant of the COVID-19 virus had already infected several residents in the northern region.
The Department of Health has reported that 22 of the 25 patients who were confirmed to have caught the new COVID-19 variant virus have already recovered.
Lopez said relaxing the quarantine classification does not mean doing away with the health protocols.
“We will continue with the strict implementation of health protocols and the granular lockdowns where they are necessary. But for the easing of restriction, I think it’s something we can really consider even next month if the figures continue to go down,” he said.
Speaker Lord Allan Velasco has filed a resolution urging the IATF to establish a unified national contact tracing protocol to ensure a more effective health emergency data monitoring system in the country.
“Contact tracing is a public health strategy to dramatically decrease the impact of an epidemic or pandemic that has been used for years to combat communicable diseases such as the Ebola outbreak in 2014 and the severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS) outbreak in 2003,” Velasco said in House Resolution No. 1536.
The Speaker noted that the Philippines is only able to identify at least seven contacts per infected person when the ideal contact tracing ratio should be 1:37 for urban areas and 1:30 for rural communities.
Velasco said the proposed unified national contact tracing protocol should include the designation of a government agency or body as the centralized repository of information to facilitate a faster health emergency response system.
The protocol, he said, should also include a secure, encrypted transmission of data, a unified data procedure for solution providers; compliance with Republic Act 10173 or the Data Privacy Act of 2012 in the handling of data; and the provision of real-time data access to accredited contact tracing app providers.
Since local government units (LGUs) had a hard time initiating contact tracing in their respective localities because the COVID-19 database lacked fundamental data such as phone numbers and full addresses, the Speaker said “numerous third parties offered disparate free contact tracing solutions, usually through mobile apps that require people to own smart phones, while some establishments continued to offer manual registration to non-smart phone users.” – With Wendell Vigilia