TRADE Secretary Ramon Lopez yesterday doused cold water on the possibility of a reversal of the decision of the Inter-Agency Task Force for the Management of Emerging Infectious Diseases (IATF-EID) to ease age restrictions for those who can go outside of their homes amid the continuing threat of the coronavirus disease (COVID-19).
Lopez, in a virtual briefing, dismissed calls for the reconsideration of the lowering of the age bracket to 10 years old, insisting that the IATF decision underwent long debates and careful consideration of all factors, including the pros and cons of allowing children to leave their homes.
Minors and senior citizens, especially those with co-morbidities, have been confined to their homes since different categories of community quarantines were imposed in March 2020.
The IATF, on Friday, issued a resolution allowing those aged 10 to 65 years old in areas under modified general community quarantine (MGCQ) to go out of their residences starting February 1.
Lopez said it is “difficult” to say what factors would force government to re-think or reconsider the decision.
“Bakit ire-re-think, kaka-decide lang namin ‘no, na after a long debate, a long consideration and eventually nagkaroon naman ng consensus (Why would we re-think it?
We have just made our decision after a long debate, a long consideration and eventually we had a consensus),” Lopez said.
Presidential spokesman Harry Roque said the IATF was “unanimous” in approving the proposal to lower the age restrictions, which he said was made by the Department of Trade and Industry (DTI) in a bid to strengthen the economy and boost consumer spending.
Lopez said that prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, the Philippines was the second strongest economy in the region but now it is at the bottom.
The Philippines started imposing pandemic lockdowns in March last year when it placed Metro Manila under a community quarantine which was expanded to the whole of Luzon after a few days. At present, Metro Manila along with several cities and provinces remains under the general community quarantine (GCQ) while the rest of the country is under the MGCQ.
Lopez said the easing of the age restriction was only recommended following an improvement in the country’s health situation. He noted that when stricter lockdowns were implemented for long months last year, the DOH recorded 4,000 and higher cases.
Today, he said, cases are much lower at the 1,000 to 2,000 levels.
“We really have to balance it otherwise, again, the economic side will really suffer. We really have to balance it otherwise, again, the economic side will really suffer. We do not like it—at least when we re-opening, we do not want the situation to get worse and have a surge. That’s why we are doing it slowly,” he said.
He said the easing of age restriction would allow more people to move freely and eventually boost consumer spending whether in the form of a family eating out or doing grocery together.
Lopez said the government is set to meet with local government units especially in Metro Manila (NCR) and the Calabarzon (Region IV-A) area to explain the IATF resolution on the age restriction. Metro Manila and parts of Calabarzon are under GCQ.
“My advice is to gradually consider relaxing the age restriction because NCR and some provinces of Region 4-A, which are both under GCQ, as they account for almost 30 to 50 percent of the economy,” he said
Despite Lopez’s firm position on the new age restrictions, Sen. Christopher Go still urged the IATF to reconsider its decision.
Go said government must not be over confident so as to allow these children outside of their homes as COVID-19 is still lurking. “It is our responsibility to protect them (children).
We must out their safety first in every decision that we make,” Go said in Filipino.
Go said these children must only be allowed to go out on essential trips and not on every occasion they want to get out.
“It is too early to allow them outside. Why are we rushing when we have not yet inoculated our citizens? If we ease restrictions and later find out that COVID cases are rising, we stand to suffer in the end,” he added.
FACE-TO-FACE CLASS VS MALL
Lopez defended allowing children to visit malls with their families even while face to face classes are still prohibited.
He said in malls and commercial establishments, minimum heath protocols such as social distancing and wearing of face masks and shields, and having a parent or guardian as companion is mandatory.
While in schools, he added, it would be more difficult to prevent kids from closely interacting with each other and they have to sit and spend time together for around seven to eight hours.
Roque and Health undersecretary Rosario Vergeire said the new quarantine classifications for February along with the possible extension of the travel restriction to 35 countries next month are still up for discussions in the IATF.
Roque said a recommendation will be submitted to President Duterte for his approval. – With Raymond Africa