Health Secretary Francisco Duque III said it was too early to say if the Luzon-wide lockdown should be extended, but emphasized that the country could not afford to relax the government restrictions imposed to slow the spread of the new coronavirus (COVID-19).
Several senators, meanwhile, said they support an extension of the lockdown until the number of new COVID-19 cases begins to drop.
Duque on Monday said they could not tell if the number of cases has peaked, and said health officials needed another four or five days to establish a clear trend in COVID-19 infections.
READ: COVID-19 Tracker: Philippines as of April 6, 4:00 PM
He cited the need for sufficient epidemiological data due to an earlier lack of testing kits.
“So we still do not have a true picture of the COVID-19 situation in the Philippines,” he said.
Because of this, Duque said it was too early to say how long would the Luzon-wide community quarantine should last.
Under the Enhanced Community Quarantine, the public has been urged to stay home, but three weeks into the lockdown, some residents are complaining they are running out of food and have no income because they cannot go to work.
Senator Christopher Go said he favors extending the Enhanced Community Quarantine for a few more weeks until the number of COVID-19 cases start to drop substantially.
Since the government’s capacity to conduct testing has increased, he said it would be best to extend the ECQ so positive cases can be effectively isolated from the rest of the community.
READ: COVID death toll rising; new cases up 152
“Let me remind everyone that we are up against an invisible deadly enemy. Going out of your house remains dangerous at this time,” said Go, chairman of the Senate health committee.
Senate Minority Leader Franklin Drilon said he, too, is in favor of extending the current Enhanced Community Quarantine to April 30.
“We are only beginning to see data of symptoms post-quarantine. And I see some data that shows it is effective. But [it’s] too early to tell. An extra two weeks would help,” Drilon said.
However, he said the food supply and movement of essential goods and services must be ensured during those two additional weeks.
“We can consider relaxing ECQ during May 1 to May 30. Still no travel to and from Luzon. Still no malls, churches, mass gatherings,” he said.
He said some establishments and transport modes could also be opened next month to help people regain income.
More retail and consumer services could resume by June, he added.
Senator Joel Villanueva is also in favor of an extension of the lockdown.
He said the increasing incidence of COVID cases indicates that the pandemic is not yet over.
“At the same time, we have to consult our supply chain experts as we need to probably exempt some sectors in this lockdown, especially the food, manufacturing and delivery sector,” he added.
Senate President Pro Tempore Ralph Recto said it would be best to relax the Enhanced Community Quarantine only when the infection rate of the virus is proven to have decreased.
He added that mass testing and treatment of COVID-19 patients would be significant factors.
Senator Sherwin Gatchalian likewise echoed Recto’s view on mass testing, saying the implementation of the month-long quarantine would be wasted without mass testing.
“Mass testing of persons under monitoring and persons under investigation is the only way to determine if we are winning the war or not. Without mass testing, we are totally blind,” he added.
Trade Secretary Ramon Lopez said his department may endorse another two-week extension of the Enhanced Community Quarantine and gradual or modified lifting of the measure after that.
“I am for the extension as I don’t want to see a relapse and lose the gains of the ECQ. (We) need to see the flattening of the curve, and more health and isolation facilities, then followed by gradual lifting of other essential and job generating sectors,” he said Monday.
The department released a memo Saturday giving residences and micro, small, and medium enterprises (MSMEs) a 30-day grace period to settle rent during the ECQ period in Luzon.
“To provide economic relief to Filipinos and MSMEs during the COVID-19 public health emergency, DTI is implementing these guidelines to ensure their survival during the ECQ, as well as to help brace them afterwards,” Lopez said.
Building owners were also advised to defer from collecting interest, penalties, fees, and other charges under the grace period. The same terms will be observed for residential rent that fall due within the ECQ.
President Rodrigo Duterte is expected to announce this weekend whether or not the Luzon-wide lockdown should be extended once the IATF submits its report and recommendations.
Cabinet Secretary and IATF spokesperson Karlo Nograles said the factors considered before making the decision would be the trends in the COVID-19 epidemiological curve, capacity of the health care system, social factors, economic factors and security factors.
National Task Force COVID-19 Response Chief Implementor Carlito Galvez Jr. said the President will decide between April 12 and 14 if the ECQ would be extended or partially lifted, saying an extension of the Enhanced Community Quarantine may help control the further transmission of the novel coronavirus.
Galvez, also the Presidential Adviser on the Peace Process, said he supports the extension of the ECQ since the curve on cases of the coronavirus disease has not been flattened yet.
He noted that deaths continue to increase while the number of recoveries is still low.
Galvez said health experts agree that the ECQ should be extended to sustain the gains it has brought in the government’s drive against the pandemic.
In related developments:
The Department of Health in the Caraga Region (DOH-13) on Monday confirmed the first case of COVID-19 in the region. The patient, a 68-year-old male, has pre-existing medical conditions and is a resident of this city. He is currently admitted at the Caraga Regional Hospital in Surigao City and in stable condition, the DOH-13 said.
Nograles said overseas workers should be able to return to their homes after the mandatory 14-day quarantine period. He issued the statement after receiving reports of discrimination against returning workers for fear they could be carriers of COVID-19.
READ: World Roundup: Global cases soar past a million; US posts highest death toll
COMMENT DISCLAIMER: Reader comments posted on this Web site are not in any way endorsed by Manila Standard. Comments are views by manilastandard.net readers who exercise their right to free expression and they do not necessarily represent or reflect the position or viewpoint of manilastandard.net. While reserving this publication’s right to delete comments that are deemed offensive, indecent or inconsistent with Manila Standard editorial standards, Manila Standard may not be held liable for any false information posted by readers in this comments section.