Metro Manila will remain under General Community Quarantine (GCQ) until July 31, but the Duterte administration has relaxed the lockdown of Cebu City to a Modified Enhanced Community Quarantine (MECQ).
The government also put more areas under “medium-risk” and “low-risk” modified GCQ classifications, as it sought to reopen the economy even more amid the coronavirus epidemic.
In a late-night meeting Wednesday with the Inter-Agency Task Force on Emerging Infectious Diseases (IATF), President Rodrigo Duterte initially agreed with a recommendation from University of the Philippines (UP) professors to shift the National Capital Region back to the stricter MECQ.
But Presidential Spokesperson Harry Roque said COVID-19 National Task Force chief Secretary Carlito Galvez and Interior Secretary Eduardo Ano appealed on behalf of Metro Manila mayors to retain the GCQ with localized “hard lockdowns” on a promise to step up tracing, testing and treatment of people positive for the coronavirus.
READ: No eased restrictions in NCR
The President relented, but Roque stressed it was clear in the IATF’s discussions that if coronavirus cases continue to rise in the capital, reverting to a tougher lockdown is a possibility.
“If the numbers increase after July 31, Metro Manila could return to MECQ,” Roque said, adding that quarantine protocols will be enforced more strictly to stem the surge in cases in NCR.
The lockdown in Cebu City, the economic heart of the Visayas, was brought down one level from ECQ – the toughest quarantine level—although neither the President nor Roque explained why at the meeting.
Other areas under GCQ apart from Metro Manila are the provinces of Laguna, Cavite, Rizal, Southern Leyte, Agusan del Norte, Basilan; the cities of Mandaue, Lapu-Lapu, Ormoc, Zamboanga, Butuan, and the towns of Minglanilla, Talisay and Consolacion in Cebu province.
The rest of the country is under a modified GCQ, the spokesman noted.
Earlier, Roque ruled out relaxing the GCQ on Metro Manila “anytime soon.”
In a television interview, he said relaxing quarantine restrictions in the NCR was out of the question, since the COVID-19 data did not support such a move.
READ: ’No to home quarantine’
He said the case doubling rate of Metro Manila is at 7 percent to 9 percent, which warrants putting it under a GCQ to prevent the spread of the virus.
“There are areas that will go back to stricter quarantine measures. But by and large, the Philippines will be under MGCQ, overwhelmingly,” he added.
This developed as the Department of Health (DOH) on Wednesday reported 1,392 new cases of COVID-19, bringing the total number of confirmed cases to 58,850.
Of the additional cases on Wednesday that were reported by 73 out of 82 laboratories, 708 are from the National Capital Region (NCR), 198 from Cebu province, 86 from Iloilo, 64 from Laguna and 46 from Cavite.
Despite the rise in cases, Roque said the country has reined in the threat of COVID-19 to the extent that it can open up 75 percent of the economy or move to an MGCQ, the lowest lockdown level set by the IATF.
The task force recommended “stricter” quarantine classification in some areas in the country starting July 16, Roque said.
The IATF acted on the appeals of four city governments and one provincial government on the quarantine classification in their respective localities, but Roque did not mention whether the appeal was to either keep or adjust the quarantine categories.
READ: Localized lockdowns pushed
“I think in the coming few days, we might even consider declaring some areas under the new normal. Although we hesitate to do so because... we want the whole country to still be under some form of quarantine just in case there are local outbreaks,” Roque said.
He said that while the government needs to protect the lives of the people from the threat of COVID-19, it still has to open up the economy.
One strategy, he said, was to resort to granular, localized lockdown, intensify its testing, treatment, and tracing capabilities, and protect the vulnerable, particularly the senior citizens.
“You have to stay home because that is the strategy we have adopted to minimize deaths,” Roque said.
“In the past, when the seniors were staying home, our critical care capacity was okay but now, I have reports that ICUs are filling up, almost all of them are senior citizens,” he added.
NCR, Region 7 and Region 4A have been identified as areas showing an increase in the number of COVID-19 cases.
The DOH also reported 517 additional recovered patients for a total of 20,976 recoveries. Additional recoveries have also seen a spike since the weekend because of data reconciliation efforts of the DOH with local government units.
There were 11 additional COVID-related deaths, bringing total fatalities to 1,614.
The total number of active cases climbed to 36,260. This is slightly higher than the last two days.
Of the active cases, 90.6 percent have mild symptoms, 8.6 percent are asymptomatic, 0.4 percent have severe symptoms while 0.5 percent are in critical condition.
The Palace said Wednesday President Rodrigo Duterte may not need to call for a special session of Congress to pass a law that will grant special powers for the COVID-19 response.
READ: NCR lockdown eyed anew
“I don’t think we will be calling for a special session because Congress will be reopening in a matter of two weeks anyway,” Roque said. “So, it will be discussed already in the second regular session of the 18th Congress.”
Congress adjourned session last month without passing the bill seeking to extend the validity of the Bayanihan to Heal as One Act, which gave Duterte special powers for three months to effectively tackle the COVID-19 crisis.
Cabinet Secretary Karlo Nograles on Wednesday said the economy is recovering from the impact of the pandemic.
During the second part of the pre-State of the Nation Address (SONA), Nograles said there are signs of economic rebound from Covid-19 induced slump.
“We may be experiencing difficulties but there are signs that our economy is improving and recovering,” Nograles said in Filipino in his opening remarks.
Citing “evidence of increasing economic activity” in the country, Nograles said the Bureau of Customs (BOC) has surpassed its collection target for June 2020 by 4.4 percent or P1.8 billion despite the pandemic.
The BOC was able to collect P42.539 billion in customs taxes and duties, exceeding its June target of P40.739 billion.
READ: DND chief sees 80% chance of MM easing quarantine
Nograles also noted that the Philippines’ credit rating, according to Tokyo-based debt watcher Japan Credit Rating Agency Ltd., reached the “A” grade level for the first time in June.
“Even amidst the pandemic, international credit rating agencies have affirmed our sovereign ratings and have kept them at investment grade levels,” Nograles said.
More businesses have been allowed to resume their operations when President Duterte eased the quarantine restrictions in the country.
Nograles earlier said the government has crafted plans to mitigate the impact of COVID-19 crisis on the economy.
On July 7, Duterte said the Philippines cannot afford to completely reopen the economy amid the COVID-19 pandemic, as it would only lead to a sudden spike incases in the country.
Nograles, in his latest remarks, said that while the country suffered from severe economic recession, it is still considered as one of the best performing economies. With PNAREAD: Localized lockdown eyed
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