‘MM to revert to ECQ if cases still spike’

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    Free testing. The local government of Manila has transferred its Drive-Thru COVID-19 rapid testing venue from the Bonifacio Shrine to the Quirino Grandstand, with more motorists and commuters showing up to avail of the free test. PHOTO BY RHOY COBILLA

    WITH cases of coronavirus disease (COVID-19) cases surging on a daily basis, Interior Secretary Eduardo Año yesterday said it is possible that Metro Manila will revert to modified enhanced community quarantine (MECQ) or even enhanced community quarantine (ECQ).

    Año said the decision on the region’s next lockdown category will depend on the number of daily cases recorded in the National Capital Region (NCR) by July 31.

    Metro Manila is under general community quarantine (GCQ) until the end of the month.

    Año said other factors will also be considered before the Inter-Agency Task Force for the Management of Emerging Infectious Diseases (IATF-EID) makes it recommendation to President Duterte as to what will be Metro Manila’s next quarantine classification.

    “There is always the possibility of going back to MECQ or even ECQ, depending on the development,” said Año, a key member of the IATF and vice chairman of the National Task Force Against COVID-19.

    As of yesterday, the Department of Health reported that the total number of COVID-19 infected persons stood at 72,269, mostly in Metro Manila.

    Año said Duterte, during the July 15 meeting of the task force, had already wanted to place Metro Manila under MECQ. The President, however, reconsidered on the request of Año and NTF chief implementer Carlito Galvez who appealed the decision on behalf of the region’s local government leaders.

    “So nandyan din ‘yung possibility, it depends on data analytics (So the possibility is there, it depends on the data analytics),” said Año on Metro Manila reverting to MECQ.

    Año said quarantine classifications of areas are based on science.

    “Unang-una talagang pakikingan muna natin ‘yung data analytics ng ating mga experts, then second, iko-compare natin ito sa ibang risk factors katulad ng social, economic, security (First, we will listen to the data analytics of our experts, then compare it with other risk factors like social, economic and security),” he said.

    “From there, we will have another presentation with the IATF before we will come up with a recommendation to the President,” said Año, adding consultations are also conducted with leaders of affected areas.

    Año said he was due to have a meeting with local government officials in CALABARZON on Wednesday to discuss the issue of localized lockdowns.

    Año said the rise in the number of COVID-19 cases is expected because of the reopening of the economy and the easing of some quarantine protocols to allow for more people movement.

    “So today hindi pa natin masasabi kung ano ‘yung susunod na classification natin ((So today, we cannot yet say our new classification). It is still July 22, still eight days to go, actually nine days to go,” he said

    “Makikita naman ng publiko kung ano ang magiging trend natin and our mayors particularly here in National Capital Region nakiktia naman natin ‘yung kanilang sinseridad at commitment sa pagpapatupad ng health standards (The public will see the trend and our mayors, particularly here in National Capital Region, you see their sincerity and commitment in the implementation of health standards),” he said.

    Presidential spokesman Harry Roque echoed Año’s statement, saying there is a “distinct possibility” of reversion to MECQ or the implementation of a more stringent lockdown in Metro Manila if COVID-19 cases continue to rise in the region.

    Roque, in an interview with CNN Philippines, was asked if the government is ready to revert back Metro Manila to MECQ after July 31 if the number of COVID cases reaches 85,000 by the end of the month. It breached the 70,000 mark on July 21.

    “That’s a distinct possibility, although it’s a possibility that I wish would not happen,” he said.

    He said the country can no longer afford to close down the economy which would result if the GCQ is reverted back to the MECQ or worse, to ECQ.

    “We all know that while we have to contain the disease, we also need to re-start our livelihoods. We’ve come to a very crucial point where I think the economy can no longer afford to be shut down anew. But if we have to and there’s no alternative, we need to do it… Yes, a reversion to MECQ or a more stringent quarantine is possible. I hope it will not happen though,” Roque said.

    Galvez likewise backed Roque and said that placing a wide area under ECQ can bring the economy to a “tipping point” because it practically shuts down all business activity.

    Galvez, during the third pre-State of the Nation Address (SONA) forum, reiterated that under the second phase of the National Action Plan, more localized lockdowns based on zoning concepts developed by medical professionals and epidemiologists are being implemented. The zoning concepts are determined based on case doubling rate and number of infection, among others.

    He said localized or granular lockdowns affect a small area while “those unaffected by the lockdown can still go to work and operate their businesses”.

    He added the localized lockdowns also allow for more effective and efficient contact tracing, as target populations are contained.

    CONTACT TRACING

    Meanwhile, Año urged the 42,045 barangays throughout the country to form their own contact tracing teams to boost the country’s fight against COVID-19. On Sunday, the DILG said about 69,000 contact tracers have already been deployed.

    Año said it is important for the barangays to also organize their contact tracing teams (CTTs) because of their familiarity and kinship with residents.

    “We are in for the long haul until a vaccine is developed. CTTs in barangays will be the first responders to ensure that all residents, especially the ones who are infected together with their immediate families, are monitored and accounted for,” said Año.

    Año, a former Armed Forces chief, likened barangay officials to “soldiers who are engaging in a battle with the complete understanding of the terrain.” He said having contact tracers at the barangay level will strengthen the campaign against the virus.

    Año also urged local government units to conduct house visitations, through their barangay health workers, to check if residents, who are COVID-19 positives and who are currently under home quarantine, are qualified to self-medicate at their homes.

    The government has set three conditions for COVID-19 patients to remain on home quarantine – separate room and separate comfort room for home quarantine and there are no elderly and vulnerable persons inside the house.

    If one of these conditions is not met, the patient would have to be moved to a government isolation facility.

    FACE MASKS

    The Department of Interior and Local Government said it may be better if first-time offenders of the mandatory wearing of face mask outside residence are compelled to do community service.

    Interior undersecretary and spokesman Jonathan Malaya made the remarks after President Duterte ordered the arrest and detention of people caught not wearing face mask when they go out of their homes.

    Malaya noted that the Supreme Court has issued a directive, upon the request of the DILG, not to commit to jail facilities people arrested for crimes. He said these suspects are under PNP detention cells.

    “So mas maganda siguro na magcommunity service tayo and then second offense siguro ‘yun ‘yung multa. But pangatlong offense ‘yan ay ikukulong natin. (So it may be better if we go community service first and then fine for for second offense. But third offense, those we will detain),” he said.

    Malaya said the DILG and the PNP is in the process of discussing how to implement the order of the President. – With Jocelyn Montemayor