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Wanted: Other ways to reopen economy

/ 04:59 AM February 24, 2021

MANILA, Philippines — The country’s economic managers will likely come up with ways to further reopen the economy after President Rodrigo Duterte turned down a recommendation by the government body in charge of pandemic response to ease quarantine restrictions nationwide, Cabinet Secretary Karlo Nograles said on Tuesday.

Economic managers had noted that many people go hungry each day due to joblessness under the strict general community quarantine (GCQ).

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Socioeconomic Planning Secretary Karl Kendrick Chua had been pushing for the less restrictive modified general community quarantine (MGCQ) to stem growing poverty and unemployment during the pandemic.

The Inter-Agency Task Force for the Management of Emerging Infectious Diseases (IATF) recommended the relaxation to start next month to allow more businesses to reopen and more people to return to work.

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But on Monday, the President decided not to relax quarantine restrictions in the entire country unless the government had rolled out its COVID-19 vaccination drive.

GCQ framework

Nograles said new measures could be implemented in GCQ areas to ease restrictions on the economy. “Within the framework of the GCQ, there are ways and means for us to safely reopen the economy some more,” he said in a press briefing.

He noted that the IATF had given the Department of Trade and Industry and other members of the economic team the leeway to come up with guidelines on what economic activities could be allowed in GCQ areas.

The main difference between GCQ and MGCQ was in the number of people allowed in mass gatherings and the capacity of public transportation allowed to operate.

Under MGCQ, public places, such as restaurants and churches, and public utility vehicles are allowed to operate at 75 percent capacity, but everyone must still follow basic public health measures such as wearing masks and face shields.

Nograles said Cabinet members were 100 percent behind the President in this decision, adding that there was “wisdom” in Mr. Duterte’s move.

“There were several discussions already previous to the Cabinet meeting, so the President really had enough time to really consider his decision and it was a difficult decision for him to make,” he said. “It was a difficult decision because you have to balance health needs and the economic needs as well.”

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Immunization first

Mr. Duterte was asking “for a little more time” before loosening restrictions and wanted to follow a step by step process, starting with the immunization drive, according to Nograles.

The immunization program has to take off to boost the people’s confidence and accept the decision to place the entire country under MGCQ, he said.

A key House official also supported the President.

Valenzuela Rep. Wes Gatchalian, who is also deputy speaker for trade and industry, was all for the gradual reopening of businesses but said public safety “always comes first.”

“It is better to err on the side of caution because should another surge in cases occur, we might needlessly flood our almost in full-capacity hospitals to the detriment of the whole health-care system,” Gatchalian said in a statement on Tuesday.

“We have to ensure that the COVID-19 cases in the country first stabilize to manageable levels before we begin easing quarantine restrictions nationwide,” he said, noting that the inoculations would not guarantee immunity from the virus.

Voting 9-8, the 17 mayors of Metro Manila had recommended MGCQ for the national capital to the IATF.

But Benhur Abalos, chair of the Metropolitan Manila Development Authority, said in a statement that the mayors “would always defer to the wisdom and judgment of the President.”

San Juan Mayor Francis Zamora on Tuesday said he was grateful to the President for keeping the metropolis under GCQ.

“The national and local governments are doing everything possible to minimize the impact of the GCQ on the economy and the people’s livelihood,” he said.

Aside from Metro Manila, areas currently under GCQ are the Cordillera Administrative Region, Batangas province, Tacloban City, Davao City, Davao del Norte, Lanao del Sur and Iligan City.

New COVID cases

The Department of Health (DOH) on Tuesday recorded 1,414 new COVID-19 cases, bringing the country’s total caseload to 564,865.

It said 72 patients had recovered, increasing the total number of survivors to 522,941. Another 16 died, raising the death toll to 12,107.

The deaths and recoveries left 29,817 active cases in the country. The majority of the cases, or 88.4 percent, are mild infections, 5.7 percent are asymptomatic, 2.6 perent are in critical condition, 2.5 percent have severe symptoms, and 0.84 percent have moderate symptoms.

The DOH said it removed five duplicates from the total case count, while three cases earlier tagged as deaths were reclassified as recoveries. Another three that were previously listed as recoveries were reclassified as deaths after validation.

Eight laboratories were not able to submit their data on time, the DOH said.

—WITH REPORTS FROM JULIE M. AURELIO, MARIEJO S. RAMOS AND PATRICIA DENISE M. CHIU 

For more news about the novel coronavirus click here.
What you need to know about Coronavirus.
For more information on COVID-19, call the DOH Hotline: (02) 86517800 local 1149/1150.

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