Not that strict: Metro quarantine allows free flow of goods
The government was racing against time to declare Metro Manila under “community quarantine” as soon as possible so that officials could set rules to restrict the movement of people but allow goods to continue to flow into the national capital in a move to contain the spread of the virus that causes the pneumonia-like disease COVID-19, Cabinet officials said on Friday.
President Duterte declared a limited lockdown on the metropolis—chiefly by prohibiting domestic travel to and from the National Capital Region for 30 days until April 14—after the members of the Inter-Agency Task Force on Emerging Infectious Diseases, agreed to balance public health and economic considerations, Trade Secretary Ramon Lopez said.
Lopez said on Friday that officials had a “long debate, discussion, from morning til night” on Thursday, with the President joining the meeting before finally announcing the “community quarantine.” The President later called it a lockdown.
“It was a very difficult decision,” Lopez said. “In consideration of public health, it should have been more strict. But in consideration of economic activities, we balanced things out.”
No super drastic measure
For the President, “time [was] of the essence,” noting the negative experiences of countries which failed to act quickly, Lopez said.
“If we don’t do something drastic—this is not even a super drastic measure—it might spread more. [The President] heard that one possible output is the exponential spread of COVID-19,” he said.
The government opted not to implement a total lockdown similar to what was imposed on Wuhan City, the capital of China’s Hubei province, the epicenter of the outbreak of the SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes the acute respiratory disease, Lopez said.
The Department of Health reported on Friday that at least 42 of the 64 confirmed COVID-19 cases were from Metro Manila, including the five who have died.
The administration’s economic team initially objected to the community quarantine, Lopez said.
“But then we realized the wisdom of it and that President Rodrigo Duterte made the right decision. We want it with minimal disruptions as much as possible,” he said.
The community quarantine imposed on Metro Manila will begin at midnight on Sunday.
Lopez said cargo going in and out of Metro Manila would be among those exempted from the monthlong limited lockdown.
Restrictions on the free flow of goods going in and out of Metro Manila would have disrupted the supply chain, Lopez told reporters in a Viber message on Thursday night.
The Department of Agriculture (DA) assured consumers on Friday that there would be enough supply of basic food items in Metro Manila during the 30-day quarantine.
Agriculture Secretary William Dar said his agency was finalizing a plan to ensure that the transport of agricultural commodities to the metropolis would continue “without interference.”
Dar said the delivery of food, including rice, meat, eggs, wheat, vegetable and sugar, would continue despite the ban on travel to and from the capital.
“Let me mention that it was categorically mentioned by the President that the movement of goods and services would not be impeded,” he said.
Individuals who deliver agricultural produce to Metro Manila must only present their identification cards to the authorities and they would be subjected to temperature checks before before they are allowed through entry and exit points.
But despite the lack of clearer guidelines, Dar said anyone who carried agricultural products—regardless of the volume and the number of individuals they are with—would still be allowed to travel to Manila.
He appealed to the public not to engage in panic-buying and to purchase only their daily or weekly food requirements so as not to disrupt the market.
The DA and the Department of Trade and Industry (DTI) said prices of all basic necessities would be frozen for 60 days following announcement of suggested retail prices for certain food items, including pork (P190 a kilo), whole and dressed chicken (P130), cage-cultured bangus (P162), and imported galunggong (P130).
In Baguio City, traders were preparing a system to continually supply highland vegetables like carrots, cabbages, lettuce and potatoes to Metro Manila during the community quarantine.
Benguet province produces most of the salad vegetable demand of Manila and north and central Luzon provinces.
Agot Balanoy, manager of Benguet Farmers Marketing Cooperative, said some Manila buyers had doubled their orders at the end of this week in anticipation of the lockdown.
Lopez said the NCR will have adequate supply of food, medicines and other basic necessities.
He added that the 60-day price freeze would not only cover food items but also essential medicines and fuel such as kerosene and liquefied petroleum gas. The DTI, he said, has ordered a limit on purchases of alcohol to only two bottles per customer. Lopez warned customers who would insist on buying more that they would be sent out of the supermarket by security guards.
“The customer is not always right. In cases like this, we have rules,” he said.
Reacting to reports of panic buying, a lawmaker from the House of Representatives called on the government to draw up a food security plan in case of a shortage in basic commodities.
“As all past pandemics have taught us, panic and insecurity breed chaos,” said farmers’ advocate, Rep. Argel Cabatbat of Magsasaka party list.
Cabatbat said the government should guarantee that food supply would not run out despite the travel restrictions.
“The government must ensure three key points: food availability, food access, and food utilization,” Cabatbat said in a statement.
He stressed that the public’s first line of defense against the coronavirus was good health, “which mostly comes from the nutrients we get from food.”
The opposition Makabayan bloc expressed serious concerns about the administration’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic, describing it as “largely militarist.”
“It does not inspire enough assurance from the already worried populace, particularly from the majority poor, that a contagion will be minimized, if not prevented, at all,” the Makabayan lawmakers said in a statement.
“For example, what will be the government’s plan for our lowly paid workers and employees whose jobs cannot be done mainly at home or remotely, and, whose majority does not even have paid sick leaves?” they asked.
“What about the millions of informal settlers in the metropolis? These are the majority of the people that survive on a day-to-day basis, for whom stocking up on food supply for even a week is even impossible because of the financial burden it entails,” they added. —WITH REPORTS FROM ROY STEPHEN C. CANIVEL, DJ YAP, KIMBERLIE QUITASOL AND VINCENT CABREZA
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