Año about-face: Minors still banned from shopping malls this Christmas
MANILA, Philippines — Interior Secretary Eduardo Año on Wednesday walked back his position that minors accompanied by their parents may be allowed in shopping malls this holiday season after the health chief rejected the idea and the Metro Manila mayors decided to keep the ban in place while they consulted health experts on the matter.
Año did the 180-degree turn after Health Secretary Francisco Duque III told reporters that the Department of Health (DOH) did not agree with the idea, as children might catch the coronavirus in shopping malls and spread it to other members of their families.
Duque said that while children were at low risk of coming down with severe COVID-19, they could become carriers of the coronavirus that causes the severe respiratory disease and spread it to others, driving infections up.
‘We discourage that’
“Our position has not changed. As much as possible, we discourage that,” Duque said.
DOH data showed that of the more than 430,000 confirmed COVID-19 cases in the country, 5 percent, or 21,447, are children 0 to 14 years old. Infection is highest among the 10-14 age bracket.
Since the first Philippine case of COVID-19 was recorded in March, 123 children have died, 84 of them 0 to 4 years old.
Current quarantine rules allow only people 15 to 65 years old to go out.
As holiday shopping opened on Monday, the Department of the Interior and Local Government said children would be allowed to go to the malls but they must be accompanied by adults. Año said the relaxation of the rule against minors going out must be authorized by local legislation.
But for the 17 mayors of Metro Manila, local ordinances were not enough to allow minors to go out, even accompanied by adults.
Jose Arturo Garcia Jr., general manager of the Metropolitan Manila Development Authority, on Wednesday said the mayors met on Tuesday night and decided to maintain the ban while they consulted the Philippine Pediatric Society and other health experts on the matter.
“The mayors have decided to maintain the status quo. They said, ‘We are not the experts here. We cannot risk the lives of the minors so we need to ask for the opinion of experts,’” Garcia said.
He said the mayors would discuss whatever opinion they would get from pediatricians and other health experts.
They will vote on the matter on Thursday, he said.
In a statement on Wednesday, Año clarified his position, saying the mayors had not yet recommended allowing minors to go to shopping malls as they still had to consult the pediatricians’ group and other health experts.
“Let’s wait for the mayors to make the recommendation,” Año said, adding that the final decision would come from the Inter-Agency Task Force for the Management of Emerging Infectious Diseases and ultimately from President Duterte.
In a television interview later, Año said what he announced during a task force meeting with the President was just a proposal by some mayors. But what he actually announced on Monday night was an order for the gradual expansion of the age group of minors allowed to go out during the Christmas season. He said minors should be accompanied by their parents and the local governments in Metro Manila and other areas under general community quarantine must pass ordinances authorizing the relaxation, he said.
Meanwhile, Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana, head of the coronavirus task force, called on government officials to stop flaunting public health measures, and said the government wanted to bring new infections down to three digits by the end of the year.
Lorenzana called the attention of Cebu Gov. Gwendolyn Garcia to the crowding at the inauguration of the airport on Bantayan Island on Friday and of Baguio Mayor Benjamin Magalong to the unsocially distanced operation of a night market in the city for Christmas (See related story in Regions, Page A5).
3 digits by year-end
Lorenzana said the task force was happy with the management of the coronavirus epidemic in the country.
“COVID-19 cases are fewer. Yesterday (Tuesday), it was 1,300. It’s very good,” he said.
“We want to bring that down to three digits by end of December,” he added.
On Wednesday, the DOH recorded 1,438 additional coronavirus infections, pushing the overall number of confirmed COVID-19 cases to 434,357.
Davao City reported the highest number of new infections, 142, followed by Laguna (89), Quezon City (80), Manila (63) and Pampanga (58).
The DOH said 232 more patients had recovered, raising the total number of COVID-19 survivors to 399,005. But the death toll rose to 8,436 as 18 more patients succumbed to the severe respiratory disease.
The recoveries and deaths left the country with 26,916 active cases, of which 84.7 percent were mild, 7.1 percent asymptomatic, 0.29 percent moderate, 2.7 percent severe, and 5.2 percent critical. —WITH REPORTS FROM MARIEJO S. RAMOS AND JOVIC YEE
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