Palace told: Shift to MGCQ too soon: Robredo, senators cite rising UK variant cases

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    VP Leni Robredo (PHOTO OVP)

    WITH a shift to modified general community quarantine (MGCQ) in the offing, Vice President Leni Robredo and two senators yesterday joined calls to sustain current stricter quarantine restrictions, citing the presence of the new UK variant and other mutations of the coronavirus in several provinces.

    In a statement yesterday, the Department of Health said 18 additional cases of the UK variant (B.1.1.7 variant) have been detected by the Philippine Genome Center (PGC), bringing to 62 the total number of infections caused by the new variant.

    The DOH likewise reported that three more COVID-19 cases with potentially significant mutations were found in Central Visayas. There are now 34 patients with mutations of “potential clinical significance.”

    Last week, PGC Executive Director Dr. Cynthia Saloma said there were 31 individuals found to have COVID-19 that contain two mutations of concern to the global community, namely the E484K and N501Y mutations.

    Vice President Leni Robredo questioned the proposal to relax the restrictions imposed in Metro Manila and place it under MGCQ next month, saying the government should concentrate on controlling transmission and expediting its vaccination program before opening up economy.

    “All our energies should be focused on controlling transmission and providing vaccines and not on other things. We have to concentrate on that because that’s what’s most important now,” Robredo said on her weekly radio program “Biserbisyong Leni” aired over RMN.

    Robredo said it was hard to understand the recommendation to relax quarantine restrictions especially at a time when the number of COVID-19 transmission is still rising and the vaccines have yet to be rolled out in the country.

    Sen. Christopher Go, chairman of the Senate committee on health, said he prefers people to first be given jabs before the country shifts to the more relaxed MGCQ.

    “Let’s have a vaccine rollout first before we relax restrictions for our economy. We are still living in dangerous times. The life of every Filipino is important. I repeat, we can still earn money but we cannot buy lost lives with the money we earned,” Go said.

    Go also said he is open to relaxing quarantine protocols but only after the proposal is studied more exhaustively.

    On his part, Sen. Juan Edgardo Angara, chairman of the Senate finance committee chair, said it the downgrading should be done gradually especially in thickly-populated area, adding the resumption of face-to-face classed must resume only in low risk areas.

    “Let us start easing restrictions in provinces with low COVID cases because we really need this to open the economy to prevent people from getting poorer. This is the solution,” Angara said.

    Senate majority leader Juan Miguel Zubiri said he is not in favor of shifting the entire country to a more relaxed quarantine restriction on March 1 because “I am always on the side of caution. I am a very cautious person and I want everyone to also be one by not easing up our quarantine restrictions. I am one with the (Metro Manila) mayors who voted against the easing of restrictions because of the new (COVID-19) variants.”

    Zubiri, who tested positive of the virus twice, expressed fear that once quarantine measures are eased, more COVID-19 cases will be recorded daily like in other countries.

    The Metro Manila Council last week voted to recommend placing the National Capital Region under MGCQ after getting a briefing from economic managers led by acting National Economic and Development Authority (NEDA) chief Kendrick Chua who had earlier proposed to put the entire country under MGCQ.

    The Inter-Agency Task Force on the Management of Emerging Infectious Diseases last Friday approved the MMC proposal and said it would put the recommendation the table when Cabinet secretaries meet with President Duterte on Monday, according to presidential spokesman Harry Roque.

    The OCTA Research Team and World Health Organization Representative to the Philippines Dr. Rabindra Abeyasinghe have cautioned the government against prematurely easing community quarantines, as they pointed out to the still increasing number of positive cases reported daily.

    Even the MMC was divided on the issue. Eight of the 17 Metro mayors were opposed to shifting to MGCQ and insisted on keeping the general community quarantine status of the NCR.

    Meanwhile, National Capital Region Police Office (NCRPO) chief Brig. Gen. Vicente Danao said he has started meeting with PNP district directors last week to ensure that all health protocols will still be strictly implemented even under MGCQ.

    He added he has also ordered police officials in Metro Manila to coordinate with barangay officials and local government units (LGUs) to make sure that age restrictions are enforced.

    “We need the help of the barangay for imposing health protocols because we cannot do it alone. Aside from imposing health protocols against COVID-19, we are also monitoring criminal activity in the region,” Danao said. – With Gerard Naval, Wendell Vigilia and Noel Talacay