Lorenzana sees quarantine downgrade in Metro Manila, 4 provinces after Aug. 18
MANILA, Philippines – Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana sees a downgrading of the moderate lockdown in Metro Manila and four nearby provinces to the light general community quarantine after Aug. 18, despite a fresh call from a former health adviser to the government to extend the coronavirus restrictions to a full month.
In a television interview on Monday, Lorenzana, head of the National Task Force Against COVID-19, said frequent lockdowns were detrimental to the economy, which has slipped into technical recession after two quarters of inactivity forced by the new coronavirus pandemic.
He quoted Finance Secretary Carlos Dominguez III as telling a recent meeting of Cabinet officials, “We have to do something to open up the economy,” and “We can’t always go on lockdown because more people might die from hunger than of COVID-19 if they don’t have jobs.”
No blanket lockdowns
The defense chief said the plan after the expiration of the modified enhanced community quarantine restrictions in Metro Manila, Bulacan, Laguna, Cavite and Rizal on Aug. 18 was to suppress local outbreaks instead of declaring blanket lockdowns.
“Only places with outbreaks, many cases of infection, those are what we are putting on lockdown. Either barangays or streets or villages,” Lorenzana said.
“We [will] focus on them so that the others can go to work,” he added.
Lorenzana said he believed the moderate lockdown of Metro Manila and the four surrounding provinces would be lifted by Aug. 18 or 19 since coronavirus infections in the region were declining.
But Health Undersecretary Maria Rosario Vergeire said a decline in infections was not the only metric for recommending the downgrading of the lockdown.
“We also look at the health system. When the number of cases decline, are our hospitals also getting decongested? Are there no longer any patients not being admitted?” Vergeire said on Monday.
“We have to look at all these before we could say that we could ease restrictions and say that we are making things better,” she said.
As SARS-CoV-2, the new coronavirus that causes COVID-19, has an incubation period of 14 days, it will take at least two weeks to up to a month to see the effects of the two-week lockdown, Vergeire said.
In Malacañang, presidential spokesperson Harry Roque said extending the quarantine restrictions in Metro Manila and the four other provinces called for a “delicate balance” between protecting public health and saving the economy.
Earlier, Dr. Anthony Leachon, a former adviser to the Inter-Agency Task Force for the Management of Emerging Infectious Diseases, proposed that the two-week moderate lockdown of the region be extended to a month, as two weeks would not be enough to bring the coronavirus surge to a halt.
The decision was for the task force to make, Roque said. He noted that the effects of the moderate lockdown could be seen only after two to three weeks.
Earlier, Roque said the government would not grant anymore requests for extensions of restrictions because the economy couldn’t withstand anymore lockdowns.
In his television interview, Lorenzana attributed the surge in coronavirus infections to the failure of businesses to enforce strictly basic hygiene rules, such as wearing masks and observing physical distancing in workplaces.
He cited Laguna companies where workers were allowed to eat together in canteens, smoke together, and socialize with coworkers.
“These workers get infected and go home. That’s why there are so many households where whole families were infected [in Laguna],” he said.
The government reverted Metro Manila and the four surrounding provinces to modified lockdown on Aug. 2 after exhausted health workers pleaded for a respite amid surging coronavirus infections.
Record-high new cases
On Monday, the Department of Health (DOH) reported yet another record-high number of additional infections—6,958, pushing the national case tally to 136,638, of which 66,186 were active.
The additional cases were only from the submission of 74 of the 99 accredited laboratories.
Metro Manila continued to have the most number of new infections, 4,163, followed by Laguna, with 400; Rizal, 363; Cavite, 312; and Bulacan, 178.
The DOH reported 633 additional recoveries, raising the total number of COVID-19 survivors to 68,159. But the death toll climbed to 2,293 with the deaths of 24 more patients.
—With reports from Julie M. Aurelio and Jovic Yee
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