Some Metro Manila mayors want a 15-day extension of the enhanced community quarantine (ECQ) when it expires on May 15, a move that would take the lockdown to 76 days, just one day short of the shutdown in Wuhan, China, where the novel coronavirus epidemic first broke out.
Not all the mayors support an extension, though, as others want their cities taken down to a general community quarantine (GCQ) that would ease some of the restrictions imposed on an increasingly restive population that has been unable to go to work.
For example, Interior Secretary Eduardo Año said the ECQ in San Juan and Valenzuela is expected to be downgraded to a GCQ because the rate at which cases are doubling has come down significantly.
Members of the Metro Manila Council, composed of 17 mayors and local executives in the National Capital Region are set to hold an online meeting today, Saturday, to discuss a resolution on what to do when the ECQ expires on May 15, said Paranaque City Mayor Edwin Olivarez, who supports an extension.
“All mayors of Metro Manila must have one stand regarding the ECQ extension when we hold our online meeting via Zoom, Saturday,” said Olivarez, the current chairman of the MMC.
Olivarez said it would be difficult to have different quarantine levels since the 16 cities and the municipality of Pateros are “very interconnected, meaning residents usually live in one city and work in another.”
“You can’t have one city in ECQ and the neighboring city on GCQ. That would be chaotic. If it’s ECQ, everyone should be on ECQ,” he said in Filipino.
Under a GCQ, some forms of mass transport and establishments are allowed to resume operations but at a reduced capacity.
Olivarez said the decision on whether or not to extend the ECQ in Metro Manila will be up to the Inter-Agency Task Force for the Management of Emerging Infectious Diseases (IATF).
“It will be up to the IATF to decide since the MMC is just a recommendatory body,” the mayor said. The MMC is the governing board and policy-making body of the Metropolitan Manila Development Authority.
The ECQ was first declared March 17 covering the entire Luzon. It’s been extended in several areas, including Metro Manila, twice or until May 15.
Olivarez said he supported an ECQ extension since COVID-19 remained most prevalent in Metro Manila, with over 6,000 of the nearly 10,000 cases.
Quezon City continues to have the highest number of cases out of all Metro Manila cities, with 1,453 cases, but it also has the biggest population.
The city of Manila comes next with 749 cases, followed by Parañaque with 499, and Makati with 471.
Health officials, however, reported that San Juan and Valenzuela are among the Metro Manila cities that have shown a slowdown in the growth of COVID-19 cases.
The IATF’s basis for lifting the ECQ will be the level of coronavirus spread in an area, its hospital capacity, and the state of its economy, Presidential Spokesman Harry Roque said.
As of Thursday, the Department of Health data showed that of the 10,343 confirmed COVID-19 cases in the country, 6,709 are in Metro Manila.
In a TV interview, Año said lockdowns in San Juan, Valenzuela and Quezon province are expected to be eased.
“San Juan’s doubling rate [of infections] has gone down; Valenzuela is also another example. That means there is a possibility that they could go under GCQ. Quezon is also okay, it’s not too [high],” Año said in a mix of English and Filipino.
But he said the ECQ might be extended in Rizal, Albay, Zamboanga City, Davao City, and Cebu City because of their high rate of coronavirus infections.
“What we can do is [to quarantine] a localized area. So we can confine three or four villages or a single province or municipality so that the rest of the province can move. Other areas can be placed under GCQ so people can be allowed to work,” Año said.
Senator Francis Tolentino, meanwhile, said only cities and municipalities considered COVID-19 hotspots should remain under an ECQ after May 15.
For Senate Minority Leader Franklin Drilon, the highest consideration should be people’s lives.
“Whether an area should be under ECQ or GCQ is a health issue, more than anything,” he said.
He noted that data shows that COVID-19 cases in the country are still increasing by the day, rather than declining.
“So is the curve now flattened? I have my doubts,” Drilon said, contradicting the findings of some DOH officials who see signs that the curve of infections is beginning to flatten.
Tolentino, on the other hand, said the lockdown can be eased with proper safeguards, such as social distancing in public transport and work areas.
He also said the DOH should double its testing efforts this time to include private companies and their employees.
Meanwhile, guidelines for passengers of the Light Rail Transit Line 1 (LRT-1) have been released and will take effect once the train service resumes.
In a statement, the Light Rail Manila Corp. (LRMC) said the new guidelines would require LRT-1 passengers to wear face masks or be denied entry, thermal screening, barring those with temperatures higher than 37.6Ëš C, and the enforcement of physical distancing in all LRT-1 stations and trains.
“Physical distancing will be strictly enforced at the stations and trains, with floor markings as guidance,” the guidelines read.
In addition, it said passengers will be encouraged to use stored value cards for contactless payment, use of foot baths or disinfecting mats in station entrances, and contactless enforcement of security through visual verification of passenger bags and the use of handheld metal detectors.
The measures comply with the safety guidelines released by the Department of Transportation for mass public transportation in areas under the less stringent general community quarantine.
As part of efforts to improve sanitation and promote safety of passengers, the LRMC said alcohol dispensers would be available at ticket booths, liquid soap dispensers available in restrooms, and the disinfection of all LRT-1 trains at the end of both northbound and southbound trips.
“Trains are to be disinfected upon reaching the ends of the line at Roosevelt and Baclaran stations and deep-cleaned at the end of each day. The driver’s cab is to be cleaned before each handover,” the guidelines read.
In related developments:
• A bill filed by Senator Manny Pacquiao would fine violators of quarantine protocols P5,000 to P50,000. Senate Bill No. 1461 or the proposed “Contagion Mitigation Act” aims to institutionalize new norms to prevent the spread of contagious diseases such as COVID-19. The law would also require establishments that have the capacity to allow on its premises at least 10 people at any one time to place disinfectants at the entrances and provide functional hand hygiene facilities for free use. Body temperature checks will also be mandatory.
• The Cavite Police Provincial Office (PPO) recorded a total number of 856 ECQ offenders in a 24-hour period. These included 156 people who violated curfew hours, 124 who were not wearing face masks, and 520 who were held at checkpoints for having no barangay quarantine pass.
• The Commission on Human Rights on Friday asked the Department of Transportation to revisit its policy to ban senior citizens and even pregnant women from taking a train ride should a general community quarantine (GCQ) be implemented in the National Capital Region. Lawyer-spokesperson Jacqueline Ann de Guia said older persons should be allowed to go out of their homes subject to appropriate guidelines, under the GCQ protocols. With Rio N. Araja, Benjamin Chavez