BY GERARD NAVAL and JOCELYN MONTEMAYOR
INSTEAD of eased community quarantine levels, January 2021 may see stricter lockdowns once there is a post-holiday surge of coronavirus disease (COVID-19) cases, the independent OCTA Research Team warned yesterday as Metro Manila was placed anew under a month-long general community quarantine classification.
OCTA member Prof. Guido David said the fate of community levels in the country will greatly depend on the trend in cases during the Christmas season.
“If the decreasing trend continues, we agree with the Department of Health (DOH) that we may have a modified general community quarantine by the 1st quarter of next year,” David said in a televised public briefing Tuesday.
“But if there will be a post-holiday surge, it is unlikely to have MGCQ by January. In fact, it is even remotely possible that we will go back to stricter quarantine levels,” he added.
David was seconded by fellow OCTA team member, Prof. Ranjit Rye who said a post-holiday surge is not impossible, although it is not a given.
He said it will be dependent on the actions and behaviors of the people if a stricter lockdown would be warranted.
“That is a real possibility if we become overconfident and reckless by not adhering to minimum health protocols. That’s not good because we have been disciplined for three months already,” he said.
“Let us not waste our gains because the next surge would be more serious, in our view,” added Rye.
On Monday, the OCTA Research Team warned that COVID-19 cases in the Philippines may reach 500,000 by December 31 if the current trend continues.
This coincided with the Department of Health (DOH) saying it has noticed a slight increase in the number of new cases in recent days.
The OCTA warning came following an announcement from Interior Secretary Eduardo Año that minors are now allowed to go out of their homes and visit shopping malls with their parents, especially during the holidays.
Año said the decision was meant to encourage more economic activity in the country as families prepare for the celebration of Christmas.
Año, however, made it clear that this could only be implemented once ordinances and guidelines are issued by local government units (LGUs) that would ensure the safety of minors against the coronavirus.
“At this time, they are still not allowed under GCQ. We are still waiting for the common resolution of NCR (National Capital Region) mayors on what age bracket of minors who would be allowed to go to the malls accompanied by their parents or guardians. They promised to pass it this week,” Año said.
Presidential spokesman Harry Roque, in a briefing, said the government recognized the risk of children being infected and eventually become spreaders of the virus.
Asked why kids have been allowed to go out, Roque said: “It’s really to invite families to visit the malls again because while we have loosened the restrictions, the malls are still vacant. Many people do not go out of their homes and it has gotten to the point that we’re now worse off.”
He likewise acknowledged that the government has been “super restrictive in movement.”
Año, in his report to President Duterte on Monday night, said the issuances would come from the LGUs in areas under GCQ like Metro Manila.
“For the Christmas season, the gradual expansion of the age group is ordered, to allow minors long as they are with their parents to go out and go to the malls,” he said.
The President on Monday night retained the GCQ in the National Capital Region from December 1 to 31.
Duterte also placed the provinces of Batangas, Lanao del Sur, and Davao del Norte; and the cities of Iloilo, Tacloban, Iligan and Davao under GCQ, while the rest of the country are under modified GCQ until the end of the year.
Año and Health Secretary Francisco Duque III said everyone is still encouraged to avoid big gatherings to celebrate the holidays and limit Christmas celebrations to immediate family members as a precaution.
Duque, in the same meeting, said there is a downward trend in the COVID-19 and the DOH, in coordination with other experts, is monitoring this development with the hope of sustaining the decline of infections.
He urged the public not to be complacent even as the DOH has also been preparing the country’s health facilities in case there’s a post-holiday surge.
He also asked national government agencies and LGUs to help ensure that the public continues to observe the minimum health standards this holiday season.
Joint Task Force COVID Shield commander Lt. Gen. Cesar Binag said barangay officials are expected to play bigger roles in the implementation of community quarantine protocols, particularly in ensuring that only kids with parents are in the streets and shopping malls.
Binag admitted that policemen and soldiers, who compose the task force, cannot guard all places to enforce the health protocols issued by the Inter-Agency Task Force for the Management of Emerging Infectious Diseases.
“This is a big challenge for us. We have to fully utilize the barangay health enforcement teams in enforcing this,” said Binag, who is also the PNP deputy chief for operations, referring to the decision to allow minors to go malls and other places.
“We (JTF COVID Shield) will work closely with our local government units and we are going to rely on their barangay health enforcement teams, and of course with reinforcements from the Armed Forces,” added Binag.
While he agreed that minors should already be given the chance to go out after nine months of community quarantine, Binag said the task force is still discouraging parents into bringing their children outside.
“It was already announced by the President and by our secretary. We are going to enforce that but if possible, let us not (allow minors to go out), let’s just let our children roam in our yards. We will appreciate that,” said Binag.
Binag also discouraged Metro Manila residents from going to the provinces during the holidays due to the continuing threat of COVID-19.
If such travels cannot be avoided, Binag said motorists should check travel restrictions in areas they are going to. He noted that LGUs are empowered to impose restrictions to prevent the spread of the disease in their areas.
Binag said motorists should bring with them all the requirements during such travel so they will not be inconvenienced. – With Victor Reyes