Metro Manila Council chief sees another lockdown extension
MANILA, Philippines — Parañaque City Mayor Edwin Olivarez, chair of the Metro Manila Council (MMC), has expressed confidence that the Inter-Agency Task Force on Emerging Infectious Diseases (IATF) would support the call of 10 of the 17 mayors in the metropolis to extend the enhanced community quarantine (ECQ) in the capital region until May 30.
President Rodrigo Duterte is expected to decide on Monday whether to extend or ease the ECQ in areas with a high risk of new coronavirus transmissions.
Metro Manila has been under ECQ since March 17. As of Sunday, the Philippines had 10,794 confirmed coronavirus cases, more than half of which were in Metro Manila.
The death toll climbed to 719 after 15 more patients succumbed to the respiratory illness. Thirty-four health workers have so far died.
The President extended the ECQ in Metro Manila and several other high-risk areas until May 15 to curb the transmission of the coronavirus.
On Saturday, a team of University of the Philippines (UP) professors recommended that the government extend the ECQ in Metro Manila and other areas, warning that a premature easing could lead to 24,000 COVID-19 cases and 1,700 deaths by mid-June.
Presidential spokesperson Harry Roque said the President would decide on Monday the recommendations to be submitted to him by the IATF.
Curve not flattened
“On Monday, we are expecting the President to approve the measures on what will happen by May 16,” Roque said in a televised press briefing.
Earlier, he said the ECQ might be lifted but only in certain areas of Metro Manila, depending on the number of COVID-19 cases in specific localities.
Olivarez reiterated on Sunday that while there had been major improvements under the two-month ECQ, “we still haven’t flattened the curve.”
Epidemiologist John Wong, an adviser to the IATF, and even Health Undersecretary Maria Rosario Vergeire had previously asserted the contrary.
“What we’re really afraid of is a more severe second wave if we fail to isolate COVID-19 patients,” said Olivarez, one of the first Metro Manila mayors who called for the extension of the lockdown.
The 17 mayors comprising the MMC met virtually on Saturday and recommended three quarantine measures as the regionwide lockdown is set to end:
- Extend the ECQ until May 30.
- Lift the ECQ and proceed to a softer general community quarantine (GCQ) “until necessary,” allowing some businesses to operate and public transportation to resume.
- Place the entire Metro Manila under GCQ but allow local governments to lock down villages with still high cases of COVID-19 cases.
MMC is the policymaking body of the Metropolitan Manila Development Authority (MMDA) composed of the 17 mayors and representatives from other agencies.
The IATF will be meeting on Monday morning to finalize its recommendations to Mr. Duterte on the ECQ in high-risk areas and GCQ in low to moderate risk areas.
Its technical working groups drawing up the recommendations shared the UP team’s views, according to Roque. Mr. Duterte was expected to study the recommendations and decide on it by Monday afternoon, he added.
The cities of Las Piñas, Makati, Malabon, Quezon City and Manila reportedly voted to proceed with the GCQ.
Navotas, Mandaluyong, Valenzuela, San Juan, Pasay, Pasig, Taguig, Caloocan, Pateros and Parañaque cities voted to extend the ECQ in Metro Manila.
The cities of Marikina and Muntinlupa abstained.
MMDA General Manager Jojo Garcia, however, denied the supposed voting happened. In a radio interview on Sunday, Garcia said the mayors decided “unanimously” in its recommendations to the IATF.
Sen. Joel Villanueva cautioned the government against prematurely lifting its stay-at-home order in Metro Manila and other areas with high coronavirus infection rates, noting that the country had yet to completely contain the contagion.
“Our suggestion is to reopen the economy gradually so that workers from essential sectors can start earning a living once more,” Villanueva said in a Viber message.
He said a surge of infection was expected once the lockdown was lifted.
“Is our health-care system ready for that? Are protocols in place for monitoring and surveillance? Do we have accurate data to make an informed decision?” he asked.
Ramp up mass testing
Sen. Sherwin Gatchalian said on Sunday the government had not been successful in ramping up mass testing for the coronavirus disease.
Gatchalian said that although the current average of 7,000 tests a day was already a vast improvement from the previous rate of just 1,000, the Department of Health (DOH) could still do better.
The health department said testing capacity should be increased through continued certification and capacity-building of laboratories alongside the use of alternative testing strategies.
The DOH has certified Jose B. Lingad Memorial Regional Hospital and Eastern Visayas Regional Medical Center as Stage 5 laboratories that can perform the RT-PCR (real time-polymerase chain reaction) tests for COVID-19.
“There is now a total of 26 licensed RT-PCR laboratories across the country, while three and 29 are on Stage 4 and Stage 3 certification, respectively,” the health department said.
The DOH said that the overall capacity to manage and admit COVID-19 patients was adequate with more than 50 percent beds and mechanical ventilators in intensive care units, and isolation and COVID-19 wards available.
—WITH A REPORT FROM MARLON RAMOS
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