President Rodrigo Duterte has extended until May 15 the Enhanced Community Quarantine (ECQ) in the Metro Manila, Central Luzon, Calabarzon, and other provinces in the Visayas and Mindanao, stretching the lockdown to two months since March 15 to curb the novel coronavirus (COVID-19) outbreak.
In a televised press briefing, Presidential Spokesman Harry Roque said other areas in Luzon that are not included in the lockdown extension will be placed under a General Community Quarantine (GCQ) where some restrictions will be relaxed.
Duterte’s announcement came days after the Department of Health reported that the time it takes for COVID-19 cases to double has slowed down from three days in March to five days this week.
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The doubling time is among the factors which were taken into consideration in deciding the extension of ECQ, while other factors include the number of new cases and the health care system’s capacity to address the crisis.
Among the areas under the extended lockdown until May 15 are Pangasinan, Benguet, Mindoro island, Albay and Catanduanes, Antique, Iloilo, Cebu and Cebu City, Aklan and Capiz in the Visayas and Davao del Norte, Davao City and Davao de Oro in Mindanao because these areas are considered high-risk in connection with the spread of COVID-19.
The National Capital Region, with at least 13 million people and millions more informal settlers, accounts for more than two-thirds of the country’s 6,981 infections and 462 deaths, Roque said.
He said, “general community quarantine” or GCQ will be enforced in low-risk and moderate-risk areas until mid-May.
“If there is no deterioration, GCQ will be relaxed leading to normalization,” Roque said.
Duterte based his decision on the recommendations of the Inter-Agency Task Force on the Emerging Infectious Diseases (IATF-EID), Roque said.
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The IATF has recommended areas under both the ECQ and GCQ to consider moving the reopening of classes to September.
Establishments that fall under the so-called “Kid Industry” like amusement, gaming, and fitness should also stay closed.
Large groups like religious gatherings and conferences remain prohibited.
Roque said areas previously under ECQ but remain under GCQ will allow workers to go out and work in phases. Young people, senior citizens, and high health risks would stay at home.
The non-leisure shops in malls in areas under GCQ may partially open. There will be mandatory temperature checks, wearing of masks, and alcohol use.
Meanwhile, priority and essential construction projects would likewise be allowed to resume, subject to minimum health standards, physical distancing, and barracks for workers.
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Public transport modes would also be allowed to operate at reduced capacity and local government units would enforce curfew at night for non-workers in low-risk areas that will fall under the GCQ until May 15, and if there is no deterioration, GCQ will be relaxed leading to normalization.
Interior Secretary Eduardo Año, meanwhile, said local executives must seek the approval of the national government’s task force before they can amend quarantine rules or put their provinces or cities under lockdown.
Roque said in areas under a GCQ, shopping malls will be allowed to reopen starting May 1 with new measures that discourage “lingering.”
Mall goers will also be required to wear face masks and use hand sanitizers, Roque said.
“Non-leisure” stores such as supermarkets, drugstores, banks, laundry service, restaurants for takeout or delivery, and hardware stores will be allowed to reopen.
Trade and Industry Secretary Ramon Lopez said manufacturers of food and essential products will soon resume full operations as the government sets to motion the transition from ECQ to GCQ in some of the less affected areas in Luzon.
Lopez said COVID-19 remains a threat to health and the economy but having enough food supply and other necessities like medicines, personal hygiene products and antiseptics like alcohol are also vital for survival.
During the President’s public address aired Friday morning, updated reports by the Trade department showed that companies producing basic and essential products were given the green light to beef up their workforce beyond 50 percent.
“We got them going at 80 to 90 percent staffed to avert incidence of shortage. In fact, we have at least two weeks inventory of processed foods, as I speak. We won’t have any shortages,” Lopez said.
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He noted there is enough supply of raw materials needed for food production and processing, good for about a month to 45 days.
In areas where ECQ will be lifted to give way to GCQ, companies producing or manufacturing essentials will be allowed to file for incentives.
Most likely, food processors and companies producing items important to the ongoing COVID response may get longer or additional income tax holidays.
Firms producing protective gear are also entitled to incentives if they are registered with the Board of Incentives or the Philippine Economic Zone Authority.
Agriculture Secretary William D. Dar, meanwhile, assured the public that there would be enough supply of food for the extended ECQ period.
“As we have been reporting since the start of the COVID-19, our inventory for basic food commodities shows we have more than enough supply this year. We always reiterate this to avoid panic among our citizens,” Dar said.
In a meeting with the IATF, Dar presented the food supply outlook for 2020 with most commodities ending with a surplus at year’s end.
By end-December, rice inventory will be good for 94 days; corn for 234 days; fish for two days; vegetables for six days; and chicken for 253 days.
“As we will experience some contraction in pork supply of around 43 days, we encourage consumers to shift to other alternative sources of protein like chicken, ducks, eggs, and processed meat products,” Dar said.
The Department earlier reported that the country’s meat supply remains stable amid the COVID-19 pandemic.
It has also discounted the possibility of pork importation due to an oversupply, particularly in the Visayas and Mindanao. Hog raisers said cold storage facilities are filled with pork.
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“Like any other food commodity, we just need to bring the supply from the source to the areas where they are needed most. That is what we are doing now, and we remain hopeful for better projections in the coming days,” Dar said.
The Armed Forces of the Philippines on Friday said it is now adjusting its deployment of troops in regions that will remain under ECQ and in areas that will be placed under GCQ.
“We will make the necessary adjustments in our troop deployments in coordination with the PNP and the LGUs in accordance with these changes in the coverages of community quarantine,” AFP spokesman Marine Brig. Gen. Edgard Arevalo said in a press statement.
The Bureau of Immigration on Friday said travel restrictions set in place during the ECQ will remain during its extension.
BI Commissioner Jaime Morente issued the statement following the announcement of President Rodrigo Duterte to extend the ECQ in several “high-risk” areas until May 15.
Despite the missteps and shortcomings of some government agencies, the ECQ has minimized the spread of COVID-19, Senator Panfilo Lacson said.
“That said, an extension is necessary in highly infected areas as identified by the President in order to sustain social distancing as an indispensable aspect of our country’s fight against COVID-19,” he said.
Senator Aquilino Pimentel III described the 15-day extension as “reasonable and understandable.”
During this 15-day period, Pimentel said, the government can prepare and open the COVID-19 facilities to complement the hospital system. The government can also make sure the needed supplies and protective equipment and medicines are in place.
In the same period, he said, the government can analyze the data to see if lockdown is helping slow the spread of the virus.
Senator Sherwin Gatchalian said the President made the most conservative and the most cautious decision considering that mass testing has only begun.
“I was looking at the data last night and to date, we can only test about 3,000 patients per day and that’s the capacity of our laboratories,” he said.
Senate Majority Leader Juan Miguel Zubiri said senators will adopt a “new normal,” which is sessions via teleconferencing.
Many parliaments around the world are now doing this because of the pandemic, he added.
He said his staff is preparing a draft resolution on teleconferencing to be routed to all the senators for comments and amendments.
Lawmakers on Friday supported an extension of the ECQ.
“We understand that the health of the people is a primary concern but an efficient balance of both the consumers (demand) and industries (supply) of the trade and industry sector and the health concerns is vital because favoring health, is counterproductive,” said Valenzuela Rep. Wes Gatchalian, chairman of the House committee on trade and industry. “An extended ECQ is the better option at this time, but measures must be in place to ensure a balance of the priorities between these sectors.”
Ako-Bicol Rep. Alfredo Garbin Jr. said post COVID-19, the country needs a permanent body that will ensure the country has better defenses and countermeasures against future epidemics.
“As early as now, we need an exit strategy. The IATF is an ad hoc body, busy with day-to-day matters. For the years ahead, we need this commission as a permanent structure.”
Deputy Speaker and 1-PACMAN Rep. Michael Romero urged the Department of Agriculture and the Department of Labor and Employment to expedite the delivery of financial aid to farmers and overseas Filipino workers affected by COVID-19.
Romero said based on the DA and DOLE reports submitted to Malacañang last week, “only a fraction of our farmers and displaced OFWs have received assistance.”
He said the Agriculture department has P3 billion for target beneficiary-farmers numbering 591,246.
In the case of displaced OFWs, the DOLE placed the number at 135,720, of whom 86,054 have applied for financial assistance. Of these applications, only 3,245 have been approved as of April 16 and were “being processed for payment,” he said, quoting DOLE.
Romero said the Labor Department has P1.5 billion for dislocated OFWs.
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