9 of 17 Metro mayors in favor of easing restrictions
Nine out of the 17 mayors in Metro Manila voted to place the metropolis under modified general community quarantine (MGCQ) beginning March to boost the economy, Navotas Mayor Toby Tiangco said Thursday.
MGCQ means easing almost all quarantine restrictions, leaving only public health measures—wearing masks and face shields, physical distancing and frequent hand sanitizing—strictly enforced. It also means the return of all public utility vehicles on the road and the expansion of capacity in public places, such as restaurants and churches, to 75 percent.
In a radio interview, Tiangco said eight mayors voted during the Metro Manila Council (MMC) meeting on Wednesday night not to ease the coronavirus curbs in Metro Manila, which is under general community quarantine.
He said the MMC, the policymaking body of the Metropolitan Manila Development Authority (MMDA) would make a recommendation to the Inter-Agency Task Force for the Management of Emerging Infectious Diseases on the quarantine classification of Metro Manila, based on the result of the voting.
While the mayors chose to ease the quarantine restrictions in the metropolis, they decided to allow only people age 15 to 65 years to go out, Tiangco said.
He added that the mayors took into consideration the explanation of economic managers who had raised the need to bolster the economy, which shrank by 9.5 percent last year due to the coronavirus pandemic, by relaxing the curbs starting March.
At a press briefing on Thursday, MMDA chief Benhur Abalos confirmed that majority of the mayors had voted to ease the restrictions, but he declined to disclose the mayors’ votes.
“This position was submitted to the [interagency task force] and is expected to be implemented on March 1,” Abalos said.
In a text message, Tiangco said he voted to keep the curbs in place, heeding the warning of health experts from the OCTA Research Group that new coronavirus infections in Metro Manila could hit more than 2,400 by late March if the restrictions were relaxed.
Tiangco said he also considered the warning of the research group that people under 18 years old could become “supercarriers” of the coronavirus if the age restriction for people who may go out were lowered.In a text message, Valenzuela City Mayor Rex Gatchalian said he voted to maintain the current restrictions.
‘Stabilize numbers first’
“Our data, [which was supported by data from OCTA], shows that these past few weeks COVID-19 cases increased. It is only now that we are seeing numbers go down. Hence, we believe that we need to stabilize the numbers first before we downgrade the [quarantine] status,” Gatchalian said.
“We will abide by what the national government decides on,” he said.
Muntinlupa City Mayor Jaime Fresnedi, also citing the OCTA warnings, voted to keep Metro Manila under general community quarantine, according to city information officer Tez Navarro.
Fresnedi, Navarro said, wanted to wait until vaccinations could begin before allowing relaxation of the restrictions.
Marikina City Mayor Marcelino Teodoro said he voted to keep the current curbs in place, but as the majority on the Metro council voted to ease the restrictions, he urged that stringent health measures be enforced to mitigate the spread of the coronavirus in the region. Teodoro also said the national government must work with the local governments to lay down clear guidelines for the operation of all types of public transport to enable more people to go to work.
While trains and buses were allowed to resume operation in June last year, he said, photos and videos posted on social media showed commuters still struggled to get a ride because of the limited number of public vehicles on the road.
Vaccinate wage earners
Teodoro said he hoped wage earners would be given priority in the vaccinations, as they were among the groups most vulnerable to coronavirus infection.
Abalos said the mayors could still impose local lockdowns to suppress pocket spikes in COVID-19 cases.
“Metro Manila had been the epicenter of the pandemic. It is true that many had experienced hunger and lost their jobs, so we are balancing [the economy] now,” he said.
The voting came after the Metro Manila mayors opposed a recommendation to reopen movie houses in areas under general community quarantine on Monday.
But the mayors agreed to lay down safety guidelines for moviegoers that would be submitted to the task force for approval.
Muntinlupa City Rep. Ruffy Biazon recommended on Thursday that reopening of businesses start in cities that had started vaccinations. “The reopening of businesses should be staggered and based on which [local governments] have already implemented their [vaccination programs],” Biazon said. “This way we can ensure that [people] going to these businesses will not be at risk of infection.”
On Monday, the National Economic and Development Authority recommended to President Duterte to place the entire country under modified community quarantine to improve commercial activity.
Acting Neda chief Karl Kendrick Chua said the shift was urgently needed, and if possible be made by March 1, to reduce hunger in the country. —WITH REPORTS FROM NIKKA G. VALENZUELA, DEXTER CABALZA, MEG ADONIS AND NESTOR CORRALES
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