A “granular” and “surgical” lifting of the Metro Manila-wide lockdown after May 15 will likely be implemented at the barangay level and not per city, a well-placed Palace source said as the country continues to struggle to curb the spread of the COVID-19 pandemic.
This after Metro Manila mayors were split on the possible lifting of the enhanced community quarantine (ECQ), with most local executives favoring another 15-day extension.
READ: ECQ extension in NCR eyed
“We will make our decision based on data. If we do it per barangay, it is easier to implement ECQ measures,” the source said in a phone interview.
On Saturday, the 17 mayors, who comprise the Metro Manila Council along with the Metropolitan Manila Development Authority, failed to reach a consensus on whether to recommend a lockdown extension or a shift to a general community quarantine (GCQ).
“What they (mayors) want is for us to decide as one. Meaning, if you choose GCQ, it should be for the entire Metro Manila. If you choose ECQ, again it should be for the entire Metro Manila,” MMDA General Manager Jojo Garcia said in a television interview.
San Juan Mayor Francis Zamora, for one, wanted a two-week extension of the ECQ even if his city is being considered by the Interior department as among the two cities that can already shift to GCQ, along with Valenzuela.
“I am thankful that San Juan is among the two cities in Metro Manila that are being eyed for possible GCQ by May 15…But I do not want to waste the sacrifices of my constituents for the past two months and gamble on their lives. Whatever economic losses we are suffering now, we can recover from that eventually,” Zamora said.
Mayor Joy Belmonte of Quezon City, which has the highest number of COVID-19 cases among Metro Manila’s 16 cities and one municipality, backed the lifting of the lockdown during the MMC meeting.
On Friday, Belmonte called for a “transition period” that would allow local businesses in Quezon City to resume operations while following strict health protocols under a “new normal setting.”
“While the health of our residents remains our primary priority, we also need to look after the local economy, which has been affected severely by the dreaded virus,” Belmonte said in a statement ahead of the Saturday meeting of Metro Manila local executives.
Last week, Health Undersecretary Rosario Vergeire claimed the country has already begun to “flatten the curve” after achieving a 10 percent COVID-19 test positivity rate, the benchmark of the World Health Organization.
The positivity rate is the percentage of people who tested positive for the infection out of the total number of persons tested.
At present, however, the government’s “mass testing” only covers severe to critical cases. The National Task Force COVID-19 said the number of tests will only reach the 30,000 daily mark by May 30.
Ateneo de Manila University mathematics professor Felix Muga II, for his part, contested claims that the country has already succeeded in flattening the curve.
“We are still seeing increases, even if these are slow. If we have flattened the curve, the case graph should look like a table top,” he said in a virtual forum Friday.
Muga also warned the real number of cases will increase once the Department of Health processes its backlogs.
Last week, the country breached the 300-mark for new cases for two consecutive days, posting record-high figures in the last month.
On Wednesday, the Department of Health recorded 320 new cases. A day after, the number of new cases reached 339.
From April 7 to May 5, the number of new cases only ranged from 102 to 295.
Palace spokesman Harry Roque said the Inter-Agency Task Force for the Management of Emerging Infectious Diseases (IATF-EID) will decide today (Monday) the areas in Metro Manila that would be placed under the GCQ.
There’s no final decision, but the whole of Metro Manila would not be under GCQ and the whole of Metro Manila would not remain under ECQ after May 15, Roque said.
At least five to six areas will be downgraded from the ECQ to GCQ, Roque said during a briefing.
Quezon City has the most number of COVID-19 cases with 1,518, followed by Manila, with 749; Caloocan City, with 236; Las Piñas City, with 201; Makati City, with 472; Malabon City, with 58; Mandaluyong City, with 404; Marikina City, with 135; Muntinlupa City, with 176; Parañaque City, with 499; Pasig City, with 307; Taguig City, with 283; Pasay City, with 227; San Juan City, with 252; Valenzuela City with 122; Pateros with 24; and Navotas City with three.
He said decision to the transition from ECQ to GCQ by the IATF-EID would depend on the severity of the contagion in specific localities.
Meanwhile, Roque said the IATF-EID also agreed to amend quarantine guidelines to allow construction and infrastructure projects even in areas under ECQ.
He said construction personnel performing emergency work, disaster risk reduction, and rehabilitation works, sewerage projects, water service facility projects, and digital works are now allowed to report for work in ECQ areas.
Roque said the IATF-EID also allowed the priority public and private infrastructure projects for food production, agriculture, fishery, fish port development, energy, housing, communication, water facilities, manufacturing, and business process outsourcing.
He said allowing the implementation of projects in areas under ECQ should be in accordance with the guidelines issued by the Department of Public Works and Highways (DWPH).
In Saturday’s meeting, Parañaque City Mayor Edwin Olivarez, Navotas City Mayor Toby Tiangco, Mandaluyong City Mayor Carmelita Abalos, San Juan City’s Zamora, Pasig City Mayor Vico Sotto, Valenzuela City Mayor Rex Gatchalian, Pateros Mayor Miguel Ponce III, Caloocan City Mayor Oscar Malapitan, and Taguig City Mayor Lino Edgardo Cayetano supported a two-week extension of the ECQ.
Pasay City Mayor Imelda Calixto-Rubiano favored a week-long extension of ECQ.
But mayors of three major cities — Abigail Binay of Makati, Francisco Domagoso of Manila, and Belmonte of Quezon City — and of the cities of Malabon (Mayor Antolin Oreta) and Las Piñas (Mayor Imelda Aguilar) were in favor of shifting to a GCQ.
Meanwhile, the National Capital Region Police Office said it would deploy about 100 policemen at LRT and MRT stations to ensure commuters observe physical distancing and other rules once urban trains start running again.
Police desks will also be set up in bus and jeepney terminals to assist commuters, said Metro Manila police director Maj. Gen. Debold Sinas.
In other developments:
• Senator Joel Villanueva on Sunday urged the IATF-MEID to first look the situation carefully before coming up with the decision whether to extend the enhanced community quarantine in Metro Manila.
“As we have seen in the experience of other countries, premature lifting of stay-at-home orders almost always resulted to more infections and overwhelmed health care systems. We’re not sure if we are even done with the first wave,” said Villanueva.
• Deputy Speaker and Camarines Sur Rep. Luis Raymund Villafuerte pushed for the passage of a bill designed to gear up Filipinos for the “new normal” way of life with the continued threat of COVID-19. “We want Covid-19 to go away sooner than later, of course,” Villafuerte said, “But that scenario doesn’t seem likely to happen. Hence, it behooves us lawmakers in both chambers to help our people prepare for, and adapt, to the new normal life of continued physical distancing plus other stringent safety and health protocols in order to keep us safe, save lives and prevent the further spread of this deadly virus in our communities.” The proposed New Normal for the Workplace and Public Spaces Act of 2020, as outlined in HB 6623, aims to prepare and educate Filipinos for life after the lifting of the quarantine or containment restrictions that were imposed separately by the national government and local government units in March, through new norms of social or physical distancing and safety measures in government and private offices, schools, commercial establishments and other public spaces.
• Senate President Vicente Sotto III on Sunday urged the government to increase or widen the coverage of the COVID-19 mass testing activities as areas under the ECQ anticipate their transition to GCQ. Sotto also expressed concern that most workers will soon be allowed to go back to their workplaces even as the rate of infections remain high, especially in Metro Manila, which is the local epicenter of the pandemic.
• The police said the crime rate went down 61 percent during the ECQ—and batted for a curfew to be instituted even after the ECQ is lifted.
READ: New infections surge ahead of lockdown expiry