Gov’t to give aid to those unable to work during NCR Plus ECQ
MANILA, Philippines — The government will impose the strictest lockdown for one week beginning on Monday in Metro Manila, Bulacan, Rizal, Cavite and Laguna, which have seen a sharp increase in the number of daily COVID-19 cases.
Presidential spokesperson Harry Roque announced the drastic measure on Saturday as the Department of Health (DOH) reported that the number of active cases had risen to more than 118,000 with new infections topping 9,000 for the second straight day.
The March 29 to April 4 enhanced community quarantine (ECQ) for the national capital and the four adjacent provinces will be accompanied by a 6 p.m. to 5 a.m. curfew.
Under ECQ, people must stay at home, with residents’ movement limited only to accessing essential goods and services and for work in permitted offices and establishments.
The government will distribute aid to those who are unable to work, and the details are being finalized, Roque said.
“Because the President understands that there will be no work while we are under ECQ, there will be aid given to our countrymen,” he added.
President Rodrigo Duterte approved the recommendation of the Inter-Agency Task Force for the Management of Emerging Infectious Diseases to place these areas under ECQ, which was based on the data on cases and health-care utilization, Roque said.
“We want to take drastic measures because the rise in cases is drastic due to the new variants. Drastic threat warrants a drastic response,” Roque said at a televised press briefing.
It was the first time that significant parts of the country were placed under ECQ a year after the President imposed the strictest lockdown in the country in response to the pandemic.
This means a significant portion of the economy would be shut down in these areas, and only essential businesses would be permitted.
Roque said the government expects the one-week ECQ to help bring down the number of infections by more than 25 percent.
“I think the expectation is higher than 25 percent [reduction],” he said.
Roque earlier said the two-week strict general community quarantine that was supposed to end April 4 was intended to bring down cases by 25 percent.
To curb the increase in cases, the government will implement additional protocols and increase testing, and conduct parallel implementation and strengthening of vaccination efforts in places with a high number of cases, Roque said.
It will implement minimum health standards, distribute personal protective equipment, retrofit workplaces and public spaces to ensure adequate ventilation, he said.
Officials will visit homes and actively look for suspect COVID-19 patients, and test, contact trace and isolate them.
He said 95 percent of close contacts should be traced and isolated within 24 hours.
Roque said the government will also procure at least 500,000 antigen test kits to ensure that a high number of people would be tested, he said.
The lockdown was more strict than the modified ECQ proposed by the OCTA Research group, but shorter than the two-week period it had recommended.
The number of daily infections has recently been surpassing the highest figures reached during the height of the pandemic in August last year. Health officials attribute this partly to the spread of the more infectious variants of the SARS-CoV-2 virus and to lapses in following health measures, such as mask wearing, handwashing and physical distancing.
The DOH reported 9,595 new cases on Saturday, a day after it logged 9,838 cases, bringing the total caseload to 712,442.
It said 481 had recovered, raising the number of survivors to 581,161. The 10 who died brought the death toll to 13,159.
The deaths and recoveries raised the number of active cases to 118,112, with 95.1 percent who are mild, 32 percent asymptomatic, 0.7 percent critical, 0.7 severe and 0.39 percent moderate.
The DOH’s COVID-19 tracker showed Metro Manila and the four provinces accounted for the largest numbers of cases.
Metro Manila’s 63,266 active cases accounted for 53.56 percent of the country’s total and 5,204 new infections were 54.23 percent of the total new cases.
Rizal had 535 new cases, Bulacan 500, Cavite 453 and Laguna 315.
OCTA Research, an independent group of academics mostly from the University of the Philippines, proposed the modified ECQ at Saturdays’ Laging Handa briefing, saying the current restrictions under the general community quarantine would take too long to bring down the number of cases in the country and strain the health system.
Tighter restrictions needed
OCTA’s Butch Ong said the reproduction number of COVID-19 only went down from 2.04 to 1.94 following localized restrictions.
Because of this, OCTA stands by its projection that daily cases would reach 11,000 by the end of the month, though it hopes the country would beat this, Ong said.
Tighter restrictions are needed, he said.
“If we are going to maintain the localized lockdown and if the change in reproduction number is only .01, with the change going down, we might see an improvement in about ten weeks, and that’s too long for our health-care workers, for the health-care system,” Ong said.
The occupancy of intensive care unit beds is at 70 percent, which is the critical level, he noted.
‘We need a time out’
OCTA research fellow Ranjit Rye told reporters that there was a need to lower the “health-care utilization rate,” referring to the rising hospital occupancy rates.
“We need a timeout and we need it now. We are doing this to save lives and livelihoods,” Rye said.
Albay Rep. Joey Salceda, the House ways and means panel chair, said he supported lockdowns “if they will truly make a dent on the number of cases.”
“Lockdowns that paralyze livelihoods should come with the guarantee that those who will suffer greatly for them will be fed and sheltered by government. So, we have to make this work. I welcome the recommendation to submit sources of funding for targeted subsidies during the lockdown,” he said.
Apart from completing the vaccination for medical front-liners, he said health-care workers who need to go to work during ECQ should get some form of hazard pay soon, and “not subject to bureaucratic processing months after.”
House Minority Leader and Abang Lingkod Rep. Joseph Stephen Paduano said he was against the lockdown.
“We already did that before. Let’s not repeat it and regret the lost opportunities due to the lockdown. Filipinos need not choose between dying from virus infection or poverty and hunger! A balanced policy between health and economy is necessary,” he said.
Bayan Muna Rep. Carlos Isagani Zarate, said that placing the Greater Metro Manila under ECQ without massive free mass testing, aggressive contact tracing, effective and timely isolation and treatment, and a fast-tracked vaccination rollout “would just be repeating the same militarist, inefficient and highly ineffective lockdowns done by the Duterte administration.”
He said the government’s move was a “tacit admission by the administration it failed; that it bungled big time the Covid pandemic crisis.”
“It is proof, too, of its calamitous failure to listen to the health experts early on,” Zarate said in a statement.
—With reports from Patricia Denise M. Chiu and Julie M. Aurelio
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