Quarantine restrictions in response to COVID-19 in Metro Manila will most likely be eased again by June 1, Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana said Saturday evening.
“Most likely we will be under a GCQ by June 1,” Lorenzano said, referring to a general community quarantine.
READ: New wave of cases feared
Metro Manila, Laguna, Bataan, Bulacan and other provinces, are currently under a modified enhanced community quarantine (ECQ), which allows some sectors such as construction and food manufacturing to resume operations after two months under a lockdown.
Members of the Metro Manila Council made up of the mayors of 16 cities and one municipality, are set to meet this week to discuss recommendations on the fate of the modified ECQ after May 31.
MMC chairman and Parañaque City Mayor Edwin Olivarez said the mayors were torn between restarting the economy and safeguarding the people’s health.
Olivarez said he is in favor dropping down to a GCQ in Metro Manila on June 1, because the economic impact of the COVID-19 pandemic or residents of the National Capital Region.
Citing a study conducted by a state-run think tank, Olivarez said the economy may lose between P276.3 billion and P2.5 trillion, depending on how the coronavirus pandemic develops in the next few months.
READ: Palace disowns ‘2nd wave’
The country’s economic losses are estimated to reach P2.5 trillion under a worse case scenario, where it is assumed that the pandemic is not contained around the world and that the global economy would fall into a recession.
The MMC recommendations will be presented to the Inter-Agency Task Force for the Management of Emerging Infectious Diseases, which would have the final say.
Palace spokesman Harry Roque said despite current restrictions, Metro Manila was slowly returning to normal.
He added that the slowing down of doubling rates—the rate at which the disease doubles—was an encouraging sign that the curve of infections is flattening.
Longer doubling times produce a smaller, flatter surge, but they also mean the public must continue social distancing to maintain the range path of transmission, he said.
Under new guidelines issued by the IATF, ECQ and MECQ areas allow the full operation of public or private hospitals; health and emergency front-line services; and manufacturers of medicines, medical supplies, devices and equipment in areas.
The IATF’s Resolution 38 also allows industries in agriculture, forestry and fishery as well as delivery and courier services for food, medicine and other essential goods to resume full operations in all quarantine categories.
For other industries, the previous ECQ rule on companies running at half capacity remains but those involved in the provision of essential goods and services, media entities, establishments offering utility relocation work and specified limited works are now allowed to resume full operations in MECQ areas.
The same will apply to medical, dental, rehabilitation and optometry clinics; pharmacies and drug stores; veterinary clinics; banks and money transfer services; capital markets, water supply, and sanitation services and facilities; energy and power firms; telecommunications companies; airline and aircraft maintenance in MECQ zones.
The IATF also allowed the full operation of manufacturing companies; state-run Philippine Postal Corp. and the Philippine Statistics Authority; business process outsourcing and export-oriented businesses; essential projects and funeral and embalming services.
The new guidelines also allowed gatherings for the provision of critical government services and authorized humanitarian activities, subject to prescribed health standards, in MECQ areas.
READ: DOH needs P67.6 billion more to fight pandemic as cases near 13,000
For areas under GCQ, the IATF also expanded the outdoor activities that people could undertake.
These include non-contact sports and other forms of exercise such as, but not limited to, walking, jogging, running, biking, golf, swimming, tennis, badminton, equestrian and skateboarding. Minimum health standards must be followed.
The Department of Health (DOH) on Sunday reported 258 new cases of COVID-19, bringing the total nationwide to 14,035.
Five new fatalities brought the death toll to 868, while 72 new recoveries brought to 3,249 the number of patients who have recovered from the disease.
Meanwhile, among the latest polymerase chain reaction (PCR) laboratories to be licensed by the DOH were the Philippine National Police Crime Laboratory and the Ilocos Training and Regional Medical Center, bringing the total number of PCR testing centers to 34.
A total of 120 other facilities were undergoing the five-step laboratory accreditation process, 92 of which were already at Stage 3 and above.
In other developments:
• The Alliance of Health Workers (AHW) on Sunday lambasted the national government for having no program for COVID-19 mass testing and leaving it up to the private sector to pay for the detection of the disease among their employees. “We are so disgusted with government’s privatized response in dealing with COVID-19 pandemic while abandoning its state responsibility for health workers’ safety and people’s right to public health. Massive testing was crucial to seeing the true picture of transmission in the country but it was never done promptly,” Robert Mendoza, national president of the AHW, said. Mendoza also decried the pronouncement of Health Secretary Francisco Duque III that the curve of infections has flattened despite the government’s lack of testing and contact tracing.
• Quezon City Mayor Joy Belmonte has partnered with the private sector in a bid to identify COVID-19 patients for rapid testing in several villages. The city government received 3,800 rapid antibody-based diagnostic test (RDTs) kits from Project Ark, a private sector initiative to be used to screen and identify residents from selected barangays. On May 18, 1,500 rapid tests were conducted in barangays Immaculate Concepcion, Kristong Hari, Kalugusan and Dona Aurora as pilot areas based on their population, active cases and attack rate of the virus in the area. These barangays are also located along Quezon City’s hospital belt, an area with hospitals accommodating COVID-19 patients.
• Manila City Vice Mayor Maria Sheilah Lacuna-Pangan on Sunday said that confirmed COVID-19 cases are expected to rise due to the city’s continuous mass testing operations. With mass testing operations, Lacuna-Pangan said the Manila City government will be able to immediately identify and isolate infected residents from their communities.