Quarantine restrictions based on age slammed
MANILA, Philippines — Lawmakers and employers on Wednesday blasted as “arbitrary” the Department of Health (DOH) guidelines barring teenagers and senior citizens from going out of their homes even after the easing of quarantine measures in Metro Manila and the rest of Luzon, which are currently on lockdown due to the coronavirus pandemic.
“Putting the age bracket of 19 years old and below, plus 60 years old and above to be covered by the extended lockdown period is again typical of the arbitrariness of [the] DOH, which provides the [Inter-Agency Task Force on Emerging Infectious Diseases] inputs,” said 1-Pacman Rep. Enrico Pineda, head of the House of Representatives’ committee on labor and employment.
Loss of jobs
The Employers Confederation of the Philippines (Ecop) said the regulation could lead to workers age 18 to 20 and senior citizens to lose their jobs since only people age 21 to 59 would be allowed to leave their homes.
“By that simple regulation, you blacklist the 18 to 20 and the senior citizens from work, which can be permanent,” Sergio Ortiz-Luis Jr., Ecop president, said in a phone interview.
The task force overseeing the Duterte administration’s response to the coronavirus pandemic is preparing guidelines to be followed by businesses when they are allowed to reopen partially on May 1, after the Luzon lockdown ends and the country shifts to what the government calls “general community quarantine.”
The shift begins on May 16 in Metro Manila and other high-risk parts of the country if their assessment improves to low to moderate risk for coronavirus infection.
The proposed guidelines would include prohibiting teenagers and senior citizens from going out of their homes, which Pineda denounced as “arbitrary” and Kabayan Rep. Ron Salo rejected for being “inhumane at worst or ill-thought of at the least.”
Pineda cited DOH statistics that purportedly show that while the age bracket 60-69 make up 26 percent of coronavirus cases in the country, cases in the 50-59 bracket account for 24 percent.
“Thus, the age bracket 50 to 69 years old represents 50 percent of all cases. Therefore, if the age bracket 50 to 59 is not covered by the extended lockdown, so, too, should be the 60 to 69 age bracket,” he said.
With the DOH data also showing that the 70-to-79 age group making up only 14 percent of the coronavirus cases, Pineda said he believed senior citizens belonging to this bracket had stronger defense against the virus because they were usually “bombarded” with maintenance medicines and vitamins.
“What then is the basis of the DOH rule that 19-year-olds and below, [and] 60-year-olds and above must suffer [during] the extended lockdown period? It appears to have no real basis and therefore arbitrary,” he said.
“Protecting [teenagers and senior citizens] from COVID-19 does not justify complete disregard of their civil liberties as well as their right [to] gainful employment and practice of their profession,” Salo said.
COVID-19 is the severe respiratory disease caused by the new coronavirus.
Salo pointed out that President Duterte, most members of the Cabinet and justices on the Supreme Court, as well as the heads of most businesses in the country, are senior citizens.
He called on the task force to reconsider the guidelines to ensure that the rights of the elderly are “not unduly curtailed while still ensuring the protection of their health and safety.”
Cagayan de Oro Rep. Rufus Rodriguez also called on the task force to reconsider the regulation, citing complaints he had received from friends and constituents who are senior citizens.
“They are asking the [task force] to trust them with their own safety. They will always wash their hands, wear face masks when going out and always observe social distancing,” Rodriguez said.
There is no available data on the number of workers aged 18 to 20 and those aged 60 and above. But data from the Philippine Statistics Authority show that as of July 2019, 15.3 percent of the employed workforce—around 6.6 million—are aged 15 to 24, while 15.9 percent — around 6.8 million — are 55 and above.
The numbers suggest a significant part of the workforce will be wiped out if the new regulation is enforced.
Ecop’s Ortiz-Luis, 75, pointed out that many business owners, especially of small companies, are senior citizens. Some of them may not feel confident running their company from their homes, as they should be in their offices overseeing the operations, he said.
He also cited double standard in the regulation, saying most government officials, including President Duterte and most members of his Cabinet are senior citizens.
“They say senior citizens are endangered. Fine. But you have to help them, not make their lives difficult,” Ortiz-Luis said.
“Don’t discriminate against them. [Y]ou think you’re protecting them. No, you’re harming them. You’re harming the economy. That [regulation] wasn’t well thought of,” he said.
Presidential spokesperson Harry Roque said officials were studying the proposal. He said he himself had been deluged with complaints about the restrictions concerning the elderly.
“Actually, I’ve been hounded by senior citizens since that announcement came out because apparently the 60-plus seniors are the decision-makers in different companies, including government,” Roque said in a television interview.
He noted that 80 percent of Cabinet officials are senior citizens.
“So I hope they come up with exceptions to the rule that says senior citizens together with the youth will have to stay indoors,” Roque said.
—WITH REPORTS FROM ROY STEPHEN C. CANIVEL AND LEILA B. SALAVERRIA
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