Metro mayors may push for 15 more days under ECQ
Mayors of the local governments making up the National Capital Region (NCR) are likely to recommend in their meeting today another 15-day extension of the lockdown being imposed on the metropolis since March 16, to allow their respective health departments to conduct more tests for coronavirus infection.
In an interview with the Inquirer on Friday, Parañaque Mayor Edwin Olivarez said that while there had been major improvements under the two-month enhanced community quarantine (ECQ), “we still haven’t flattened the curve,” he said.
“What we’re really afraid of is a more severe second wave if we fail to isolate COVID-19 patients,” said Olivarez, who also chairs the Metro Manila Council (MMC), the capital’s top policymaking body. “What we’re looking at is the capacity of each city government to carry out its mass testing so they can better identify confirmed cases,” he added.
The MMC can only make recommendations which will still be subject to the approval of the Inter-Agency Task Force (IATF) on Emerging Infectious Diseases, which manages the country’s coronavirus strategies.
Olivarez said he expected that the new extension, if approved by the task force, would only be up to May 30 — not June 15, as the mayors earlier suggested.
“We’re looking at a possible two-week extension to allow city governments to cope with their mass testing demands and capacity. We think May 30 is a [sufficient] deadline,” the Parañaque mayor said.
Olivarez was the first among the 17 NCR mayors to call for another extension, especially since four cities —San Juan, Mandaluyong, Parañaque and Makati—were still recording high number of cases per capita.
All cities in Metro Manila currently have their own accredited laboratories facilitating mass testing in their own localities.
In saying that the NCR has not yet flattened the curve, Olivarez appeared to disagree with the statements made on Tuesday by Dr. John Wong, an epidemiologist advising the task force. In an IATF briefing, Wong then said data from 10 to 14 days ago showed that the ‘’curve has already flattened,’’ and that among its indicators was the longer time in now took for the number of cases and deaths to double.
Interior Secretary Eduardo Año earlier suggested easing the ECQ on some cities, but the MMC wanted the entire capital region placed under a single lockdown status.
“Metro Manila is very interconnected, and it’s impossible for one city to be under GCQ (the more relaxed “general community quarantine”) while others are in ECQ,” Olivarez said. “So what we’re aiming for is one unified decision for the entire capital region.”
A Department of Health (DOH) official shared the same view on Friday.
“Since we started the lockdown, one of the arguments is that you can’t separate the cities because we are in a contiguous area and there is cross-border movement of people due to work,” Health Undersecretary Maria Rosario Vergeire said during her regular online press briefing on the country’s Covid-9 situation.
But the DOH still could not say if cities in the NCR are prepared for any possibility that may arise from easing the lockdown. “No country is really ready to face this kind of uncertainty. Even if we are saying that we have flattened the curve, we still have to prepare for the next fight,” Vergeire said.
“We’ll continuously prepare so that we can keep up with the situation,” she also said.
Asked if the DOH is keen to recommend another extension of the lockdown, Vergeire said this decision is best left to the task force. “When we discuss in the IATF, we give the facts. And the facts are the number of cases we have [and] the hotspot areas, and IATF decides collectively on the lockdown.”
Vergeire also said the country’s “critical care utilization” has yet to go beyond capacity, which means there are still enough beds, mechanical ventilators and isolation rooms for coronavirus cases.
“But, of course, we will not hide that in NCR we are almost at that point where we are about to reach the maximum,’’ she said. “But there are still available beds, ICU (intensive care unit) rooms and mechanical ventilators.”
Of the 1,243 ICU beds nationwide, 513 are occupied. Of the combined 11,344 isolation and ward beds, 4,749, are occupied. Of the nearly 2,000 mechanical ventilators, 493 are in use. The DOH did not give a breakdown of how many of these are in the NCR.
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