Health experts want longer lockdown in Metro Manila, 4 adjacent provinces
MANILA, Philippines — Health experts have recommended an extension of the one week hard lockdown in Metro Manila and four nearby provinces to really bring down the number of COVID-19 cases in the country, and Malacañang says the recommendation will be considered along with its implication on the economy and the health of the people.
Metro Manila, Bulacan, Cavite, Laguna and Rizal have been placed on enhanced community quarantine until April 4 in a bid to curb the fast rising number of COVID-19 cases, which the government has attributed to the more transmissible variants of the coronavirus.
At a briefing in the Palace on Monday, Alethea de Guzman, director of the epidemiology bureau of the Department of Health (DOH), presented a graph showing the projection of the number of COVID-19 cases in Metro Manila based on different scenarios.
It showed that a one-week lockdown would not be enough to continuously bring case numbers down.
De Guzman said there would be a slowdown in the increase of cases after one week, but this could rise again after lockdown was lifted.
“Which is why one of the things proposed, one of the things recommended by our experts, is we might need to extend, because with the extension of the [lockdown], we would be able to see the continuous decline in cases,” she said.
De Guzman said she understood the economic implication of extending the lockdown.
“This is not a decision we will make hastily. We will look at the data in the following week to determine if this would really be necessary,” she added.
The graph, which was also presented by presidential spokesperson Harry Roque during his briefing, showed that imposing the hard lockdown until April 4 could bring cases in Metro Manila to 550,000 to 600,000 by the end of the month.
If it is extended to April 18, the number would be lower.
But Roque said the resulting numbers would not be too different should the lockdown end on April 4 and should it be extended.
“This means we would not be able to bring down by much the number of cases even if we extend the [enhanced community quarantine]. Which is why we are balancing it now, we are taking into consideration the total health of our countrymen, the cost-benefit analysis in terms of the additional number of Filipinos who would go hungry and die from reasons other than COVID-19,” he said.
Death from hunger
He said this was a sensitive decision-making process, because if the government would be guided only by the need to bring down the number of coronavirus infectious, more people might die from hunger.
The government will also take into account its ability to provide assistance on a significant scale, because many will need help for each week that lockdown is imposed, he added.
Sergio Ortiz-Luis Jr., president of the Philippine Exporters Confederation, said lockdown was not the solution.
“It has been shown that after we had the longest lockdown in the world, our situation has not improved,” he said. “The solution there is to try what the government has not tried before,” he added, suggesting that the private sector be allowed to import COVID-19 vaccines.
Ebb Hinchliffe, executive director of the American Chamber of Commerce of the Philippines, said the logic behind the lockdown was understandable, but “if extended very long, it will definitely be the end for some [small businesses].”
The Philippine Chamber of Commerce and Industry did not immediately respond to a request for comment, but recently it urged the government to allow the private sector to import COVID-19 vaccines without any conditions.
The DOH said the government would assess at the end of the week whether the hard lockdown had eased hospital congestion then decide whether to extend the restriction.
“Our major objective for a stricter community quarantine is to have our health care capacity be manageable enough . . . We are choking, we are having full capacity in [emergency rooms] and [intensive care units],” Health Undersecretary Maria Rosario Vergeire said on Monday.
“We will do an assessment after a week and try to see if we can manage, then we will decide,” she said.
14 days to 1 month
Dr. Jonas del Rosario, speaking for Philippine General Hospital, recommends the extension of the lockdown to 14 days to one month to really contain the spread of the coronavirus.
“I’m hoping that is enough, but realistically if you look at the numbers, I don’t think [one week is] enough. . . We cannot move forward if we don’t have good control of this [coronavirus] transmission,” Del Rosario said in a television interview on Monday.
As the hard lockdown took effect on Monday, new COVID-19 cases hit 10,016, pushing the number of confirmed coronavirus infections in the country to 731,894 overall.
The DOH reported 16 more deaths, raising the death toll to 13,186. It said 78 more patients had recovered, bringing total recoveries to 603,213.
That left the country with 115,495 active cases, of which 95.9 percent were mild, 2.4 percent asymptomatic, 0.41 percent moderate, 0.7 percent severe, and 0.7 percent critical.
De Guzman also said the country could avoid a situation where it would have to keep on reverting to lockdown if people would strictly adhere to minimum public health standards—wearing masks and face shields, observing physical distancing, and frequent hand-sanitizing.
This means people should always observe these standards whether at work, on public transportation, or at home, and they should avoid nonessential travel and congregating outside their homes, she said.
They should also cooperate with contact tracing and isolation efforts.
Those who are symptomatic or are close contacts of COVID-19 patients should have themselves tested and isolated, she added.
—WITH REPORTS FROM DONA Z. PAZZIBUGAN, JODEE A. AGONCILLO AND ROY STEPHEN C. CANIVEL INQ
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