PRESIDENT Duterte and the Interagency Task Force for the Management of Emerging Infection Diseases (IATF-EID) are studying the recommendation of the National Economic and Development Authority (NEDA) to place the country under the least strict modified general community quarantine (MGCQ) starting March 1 to further reopen the economy amid efforts to address the coronavirus disease (COVID-19).
Presidential spokesman Harry Roque, in a briefing from Davao City yesterday, said also under consideration are NEDA’s recommendations to ease age restrictions to 5 years old to 70 years old from the current 15 years old to 65 years old, the pilot testing of face-to-face classes and expansion of operations of public transportation from 50 percent to 75 percent.
Roque said he does not see any problems with an expanded public transportation operation, which he said was necessary since more businesses have resumed operations.
The decision of the President and the IATF are likely to be announced on February 22.
“This is just a recommendation. The President is thoroughly studying this,” he said when asked if the NEDA proposal has already been approved.
Roque reiterated that the government needs to balance the economy and public health.
He cited among the points to be considered is that more people now experience hunger (23.7 million), have become poor (4.5 million), or are unemployed (2.7 million), whereas the number of people who have been infected with COVID-19 has already reached more than 550,000.
The pilot testing of face-to-face classes, which was previously recommended by the Department of Education, was supposed to have taken off in January but was postponed by the President after the Department of Health recorded the presence of the new COVID-19 variant in the country.
The resumption of the pilot testing was also raised after several parties questioned the IATF’s decision to allow cinema and video arcades to reopen in areas under general community quarantine by March 1, but subject to guidelines form the local government units and the Department of Health (DOH).
Acting NEDA chief Karl Chua, during the President’s meeting with the IATF on Monday night in Davao City, recommended placing the country under MGCQ to boost the economy as well as address the hunger and poverty situation.
Chua said that the implementation of the quarantine restrictions since March last year has already resulted in a total income loss of P1.04 trillion last year, or an average of P2.8 billion loss daily.
He said more people have also lost their jobs, and eventually their sources of income and livelihood.
He said that while they are recommending placing the country, especially Metro Manila under MGCQ, localized lockdowns at the barangay or municipal levels can still be imposed to control the spread of COVID-19.
Roque, who said he voted in favor of the MGCQ classification, said continued observance of health protocols would still be implemented.
The mayors of Marikina and San Juan cities opposed Chua’s proposal.
San Juan Mayor Francis Zamora said the current GCQ should be retained until after the vaccination program is completed.
Marikina Mayor Marcelino Teodoro said whatever decision Malacañang would have should not be based on the opinion of economic experts alone but also of health experts.
Teodoro added the national government should include the Metro Manila mayors when making decisions about easing quarantine restrictions since local government units are at the forefront of implementing national policies.
Heath Secretary Francisco Duque III, in the same meeting, reported to the President that the number of COVID-19 cases in the whole country has been going down except for two regions – Central Visayas (Region 7) and CARAGA.
Duque said there were also high number of cases reported in at least eight cities in Metro Manila but he did not name the cities.
“As a whole, we see a decrease in cases in the country except for some regions such as Region VII and CARAGA that showed a continued hike in cases. Eight cities in NCR also showed an increase in cases,” he said.
Duque said the healthcare utilization rate in the whole country is also in the “safe zone,” except for some provinces or cities that are in moderate to critical risk level.
He said that there should be an aggressive implementation of response strategies to contain the spread of the new COVID-19 variant in areas of concern.
He said DOH is also coordinating with different regions to get true sample representations of coronavirus cases to effectively track areas with spiking infections, particularly with regard to the new COVID-19 variant.
Among those conducting genomic sequencing are the Philippine Genome Center of the University of the Philippines (UP), National Institutes of Health, and Research Institute for Tropical Medicine (RITM).
The President, during the meeting, directed Roque and vaccine czar Carlito Galvez Jr. to brief the public twice a week about the government’s efforts to contain the COVID-19 particularly in securing vaccines to further protect the public against the disease.
The government targets to vaccinate 50 million to 70 million Filipinos for free this year. – With Christian Oineza