The 37 “low-risk” provinces that were supposed to be removed from all quarantine restrictions will remain under a general community quarantine (GCQ) after all until May 31 for fear of a resurgence of COVID-19 cases there, the Palace said Wednesday.
The announcement amended guidelines issued just the day before that would have lifted all quarantine restrictions from the 37 provinces.
Palace spokesman Harry Roque said the decision to keep the provinces and cities with no or low COVID cases, were based on the recommendations of their local government unit leaders to the Inter-Agency Task Force on Emerging Infectious Diseases (IATF) for fear that the contagious COVID 19 might surge anew.
In the same press briefing, Interior Secretary Eduardo Ano said those areas classified as "low risk" would be put under what he called a modified GCQ after May 15.
“There were a lot of governors [and] mayors who sent petitions, requests, saying that they are not yet ready to completely remove the community quarantine,” Año said.
Año did not say what a modified GCQ would entail and said specific guidelines would be released at a later date.
Health Secretary Francisco Duque III also said there was an "honest mistake" about the lifting of community quarantines.
Guidelines that established a modified enhanced community quarantine (ECQ) announced Tuesday were unchanged.
Año said a modified GCQ would allow local officials to impose restrictions to contain the spread of the virus in their respective jurisdictions, subject to guidelines that have yet to be released.
Meanwhile, the labor group Bukluran ng Manggagawang Pilipino (BMP) slammed the government’s decision to ease the ECQ in most provinces by allowing select industries to resume operations without sufficient mass testing and adequate health facilities.
The Palace announced that starting May 16, Metro Manila, Laguna Province, and Cebu City would transition to a modified ECQ while several other provinces will be placed under a GCQ or modified GCQ until May 31.
Under a modified ECQ, aside from essential industries, certain manufacturing and processing industries will be allowed to resume operations at half capacity, while more businesses will be allowed to reopen at 75 percent and full capacity under GCQ and modified GCQ, respectively.
Bayan Muna Rep. Eufemia Cullamat pointed out that without real mass testing and proactive contact tracing, a continued lockdown in high risk areas will not solve the pandemic.
Cullamat said those tested is just 0.1 percent of the whole Philippine population.
“How can we be sure that the virus will not spread? The hardships of the citizens have been wasted during the lockdown because of the slow medical solution. When this becomes worse, this would be a big blow especially to the poor," Cullamat said.
Eight weeks into the ECQ, a total of 131,786 individuals have been tested, according to the President's 7th report to Congress. This is out of the estimated 108 million population of the entire country.
Aside from the slow testing, the slow release of the social amelioration is also a hardship for the poor, she said.
After two extensions of the lockdown, not even one government agency has completed the distribution of the social amelioration assistance.
About 29 percent of the farmers have not been given the relief. Some 3.7 million families have not been given the social amelioration by the Department of Social Welfare and Development (DSWD), the lawmaker said.
BMP President Luke Espiritu said the lack of testing made the government “virtually blind to the real extent of contamination.”
“A second wave of transmission, with the resumed mobility of the working population, will deliver the death blow to our already frail and failing health care systems,” he warned.
He also said that while most workers would support the easing of quarantine restrictions so they can work again, he urged them to exercise caution.
Also on Wednesday, Manila Mayor Francisco “Isko” Moreno Domagoso expressed optimism after the announcement of the imposition of a modified ECQ in the city starting May 16.
“Manila will be placed under the modified ECQ. This means that we will have the opportunity to normalize businesses as well as our lives. It’s a welcome development for the city of Manila as the center of commerce in the entire Luzon, and we are happy with the decision,” Domagoso said in Filipino during an online press briefing.
Domagoso said among the preparations being undertaken is the building of more quarantine facilities, with the goal of having a 500-bed capacity, specifically intended for persons under investigation (PUI) awaiting their swab test results.
Aside from the Del Pan quarantine facility built four weeks ago, more facilities are being built including Araullo High School, San Andres Sports Complex, Patricia Sports Complex, Tondo Sports Complex, Dapitan Sports Complex, and other schools.
Domagoso is also preparing for a possible increase in PUI cases once the city is placed under a modified ECQ.
Bangsamoro officials, meanwhile, were a bit upbeat by the latest resolution of the National Inter-Agency Task Force, placing the region among other low-risk areas under a modified GCQ effective May 16.
Cabinet Secretary Mohammad Asnin Pendatun of the Bangsamoro Region Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (BARMM) said residents should remain cautious, vigilant, and obedient to health regulations set by authorities, like wearing of face masks in public places and observing physical distancing. With PNA