Relaxed quarantines possible by October

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    MOST parts of the country could now ease to more relaxed community quarantines with more provinces registering zero infections or transmission of the new coronavirus, presidential spokesman Harry Roque said yesterday.

    Trade Secretary Ramon Lopez also “personally” believes that relaxing the community quarantine status of more areas into modified general community quarantine (MGCQ) by October is already feasible provided that strict compliance to health protocols are observed.

    Roque said current community lockdowns in certain areas would “not be the same” by October, but quickly added this does not apply to Metro Manila which continues to log high numbers of infections.

    During a media briefing from Cagayan de Oro, Roque said the decision on community lockdowns in general would still be “data-driven and guided by science.”

    “What I can say though is that it will not be the same because even me, and the IATF (Inter-Agency Task Force for the Management of Emerging Infectious Diseases) agreed, that there are areas with zero transmission in the past months that can be declared under the regime of new normal. So with that, we can have a new classification, we can have a new normal aside from MGCQ,” Roque said.

    Roque said, though, that the prospect of Metro Manila being declared under the most relaxed community quarantine is unlikely, pointing out that the region must first meet certain requirements like keeping the doubling rate to around 7 percent.

    “Right now, I think we are on 13 to 14 days, so Metro Manila still has a long road to go in terms of quarantine classification,” he added.

    Lopez, during the Laging Handa public briefing, said about 50 percent of the economy is actually already open given that majority of the provinces are already under MGCQ and that reopening the rest of the economy would be possible if the remaining areas under the stricter quarantine classifications are eased further.

    Like Roque, Lopez said the easing of restrictions would be based on data.

    “In my belief, and this is mine only, we can push for a more lenient community quarantine but what is important is there is self-discipline and self-regulation in the whole country so we can continue to lower the transmission even under MGCQ, which would allow us to open more sectors in the economy,” Lopez said.

    Lopez emphasized the importance of strictly following the health protocols, or the “Seven Commandments” rule, that include wearing of face shields and masks, no eating and talking in public to prevent the spread of respiratory droplets, adequate ventilation in enclosed spaces, frequent disinfection, no symptomatic people wandering in public areas, and strict observance of a one-meter physical distancing.

    President Duterte is expected to announce the new community quarantine status across the country next week.

    Currently under the modified enhanced community quarantine (MECQ) until the end of September are Iligan, Bacolod and Lanao del Sur; while Metro Manila, Bulacan, Batangas and Tacloban City are under the general community quarantine (GCQ). The rest of the country is under MGCQ.

    Roque and Lopez reiterated the need to continue to improve the health care capacity in the country through intensified contact tracing, establishment of more isolation centers and provision of treatment for patients.

    Interior undersecretary Jonathan Malaya, during the Laging Handa network briefing, said the Department of the Local and Interior Government (DILG) has already commenced the recruitment and training of at least 50,000 contact tracers nationwide as part of the initiative to strengthen the country’s COVID-19 response.

    Malaya urged those looking for a job to consider contact tracing which would provide them employment and at the same time help the government in its campaign against COVID-19.

    He said preferred applicants are those with a Bachelor’s degree or college level in an allied medical course or criminology course but other applicants from different fields of expertise would also be accepted.

    Contractual personnel whose employment were not renewed, overseas Filipino workers whose employments were disrupted, and local employees whose service have been recently terminated will also be given priority in the hiring process if qualified.

    The successful contact tracers applicants will earn a minimum of P18,784 per month under contract of service status, with responsibilities such as conducting interviews, profiling, and performing initial public health risk assessment of COVID-19 cases and their identified close contacts.

    Interior Secretary Eduardo Año said physical distancing in public transportation vehicles may be reduced from the current one meter once COVID-19 daily cases dropped to two or lower three digits.

    Año said the Philippines has yet to get in the league of neighboring countries which have eased social distancing in mass transport.

    Año said Thailand’s average daily COVID-19 infection is only three, Malaysia’s average 25, Singapore is 61, South Korean is 234 while Japan is 763.

    “But in Philippines, the average is 3,500 new cases a day. The difference is still huge for us to decide on easing physical distancing,” he said.

    Año said he, Health Secretary Francisco Duque III and two other IATF members have opposed the Department of Transportation’s decision to reduce physical distancing in public utility vehicles “without presentation and consultation with health experts.” – With Victor Reyes