Selective barangay lockdowns pushed instead of regional quarantine
MANILA, Philippines — Instead of imposing regionwide lockdowns, only barangays with a high number of new coronavirus disease (COVID-19) cases may be locked down, according to Carlito Galvez Jr., chief implementer of the Joint Task Force Against COVID-19.
But President Rodrigo Duterte said that if the number of COVID-19 cases rose, the country would go back to the original quarantine restrictions.
Duterte noted that areas under general community quarantine (GCQ) were starting to open gradually, while some places had to be under modified lockdown to prevent the situation from worsening.
“And if possible, since there is already the opening, a gradual opening, we will see if this could be allowed, because if we will be back to the former situation, if the contamination will be as fast as before and it will continue to infect those allowed to go out, then we’ll have to just go back to the original, the program,” he said in a public address after a meeting with several Cabinet officials on Tuesday night.
Duterte placed the whole island of Luzon under enhanced community quarantine (ECQ) in mid-March to prevent the spread of SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes the severe respiratory disease.
But starting May 16, the restrictions were eased. Only Metro Manila, Laguna province and the cities of Cebu and Mandaue were under strict lockdown.
The rest of the country is under GCQ or modified enhanced community quarantine (MECQ).
With the easing of quarantine rules for most of the country, certain businesses were reopened and workers were allowed to return to their jobs in order to revive the economy.
“Our way forward is we will localize the National Action Plan through the [local government units],” Galvez said during the meeting with the President.
Galvez said regionwide lockdowns may no longer be declared to protect the economy while ensuring that the virus would not spread.
“We will not allow infections in our economic corridors. We have to preserve our economic corridors,” he said.
Warning on malls
On Wednesday, Police Lt. Gen. Guillermo Eleazar called on the public and local officials to strictly implement quarantine regulations even though they had been eased.
He said malls should not be allowed to become “the ground zero on the next wave of infection” and the public should stop unnecessary travels or trips.
Eleazar, commander of the Joint Task Force Coronavirus Disease (JTF COVID) Shield, said he told mall managers to only allow the entry of holders of quarantine passes and to maintain health protocols under the MECQ.
He said he met the managers of malls and other establishments allowed to reopen under MECQ to discuss guidelines set by the Department of Trade and Industry and the Inter-Agency Task Force on Emerging Infectious Diseases.
The guidelines included limiting the number of people who enter the malls based on an establishment’s floor area, giving at least 2 square meters of space per customer, and strict enforcement of physical distancing and wearing of face masks.
Eleazar noted improvements in physical distancing since Sunday, but that the Philippine National Police would still monitor malls and similar establishments to ensure that they strictly follow health protocols.
He said the JTF COVID Shield was proposing that within Metro Manila, only one member of a household with a quarantine pass should be allowed to shop. Those with quarantine passes can only go to malls within their towns or cities or in adjacent localities, he said.
“Do not let the mall be the ground zero of the next wave of infection. So stop unnecessary movement. Stop unnecessary travel and trips or visits to the malls and other places,” he reminded the public.
‘Big problem’ with OFWs
Galvez also reported to the President “that we have a big problem with the returning OFWs (overseas Filipino workers)” because there may not be enough space for all of them in available quarantine facilities.
More than 27,000 OFWs are now in Metro Manila and 42,000 more are arriving in the coming weeks until June, he said.
The government requires returning OFWs to undergo 14 days of quarantine and to be tested for COVID-19.
With more expected to arrive, the hotels being used as lodgings for OFWs awaiting results of their tests would be overwhelmed, he said.
Galvez said Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana had asked the Overseas Workers Welfare Administration and the Maritime Industry Authority to allow OFWs who had tested negative to return home.
Some 30,000 OFWs have been tested and only 465 were found positive for the virus, Galvez said.
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