The government’s response against COVID-19 will undergo “major changes” as the number of infections nationwide continues to rise, Palace spokesman Harry Roque said Wednesday.
Roque said President Rodrigo Duterte will announce the new changes on Thursday (July 30) after meeting with the Inter-Agency Task Force for the Management of Emerging Infectious Disease (IATF) and some Cabinet members.
The Palace official said the changes refer to “massive, massive” testing, “reintegrated” contact tracing, and creation of “more and more” isolation facilities.
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“Things will not be the same,” Roque said in an interview with CNN Philippines.
He said the government will focus on accelerating efforts to test, trace, isolate, and treat patients with COVID-19 to stem the transmission.
“We acknowledge that the numbers are rising. We do say that what really matters is the mortality rate, and the mortality rate is below world average. We’re more or less around 2 percent. So we can’t say we’ve been an absolute failure,” Roque said.
“We’ve been rather successful because we’ve limited mortality rate, and in the end that’s what matters – how many people perished because of the pandemic,” he said.
Roque said the UP-OCTA research group that has been issuing grim forecasts on the number of infections also said there would have been 3.5 million more cases by now had the government not taken steps to slow the rate of infection.
“The people will now see the difference in the response that we will have. It is now thoroughly invigorated and part of it is the built capacity,” he added.
Roque also said more isolation facilities will be constructed for mild and asymptomatic patients and the government will use dormitories if that will not be enough.
Roque said Metro Manila will be a “living experiment” in the government’s fight against the COVID-19 pandemic, and predicted it would be a successful one.
Asked if the experiment will shift Metro Manila back to a stricter modified enhanced community quarantine (MECQ), the Palace official declined to reply.
The National Capital Region (NCR), home to more than 12 million people and contributor of a third of the country’s gross domestic product, is now under the more lenient general community quarantine (GCQ).
But due to the continuous rise in COVID cases, the President earlier hinted that NCR may shift back to a stricter MECQ.
Roqu said that “it will still be the case-doubling rate and critical care capacity that will determine Metro Manila’s fate whether it will stay in the general community quarantine (GCQ) status or be elevated to a stricter quarantine level.”
“Our case doubling rate is fine. We’re now at 8.9. We actually improved because the longer the better,” he said.
“It’s the critical care capacity that’s the problem because (for) ICU beds, we’ve reached 80 [percent capacity],” he said.
Roque reiterated the government’s advise to the public not to be complacent even if quarantine measures have been relaxed, saying the easing is being done to reopen the economy gradually and help the people recover from financial losses.
Trade Secretary Ramon Lopez, meanwhile, said the government has given its nod to allow more activities and establishments to operate starting Aug. 1 to support a slowly rebounding economy.
Lopez said the Inter-Agency Task Force for the Management of Emerging Infectious Diseases (IATF-EID) has approved the department’s proposal to open up testing and health-related review centers, computer shops, aesthetic establishments, and drive-in cinemas in GCQ areas.
Other approved activities were those offering personal grooming, pet grooming, sports and fitness centers. These activities are allowed to operate at 30 percent capacity.
“For testing and review centers, only 10 persons will be allowed per room or less if the room is small. But all these capacities will increase as soon as the situation improves,” Lopez said.
The IATF meeting, on Wednesday, recategorized Category IV industries to Category III industries to allow their limited operation in areas under a GCQ.
The DTI, in coordination with the Department of Health (DOH), is crafting the mandatory health protocols for each business activity.
The IATF also approved several activities under Category IV, which means, these are allowed only in areas under modified general community quarantine (MGCQ).
These include full body massage; tattoo and body piercing; live events; entertainment industries; libraries, archives, museums and cultural centers; tourist destinations; language, driving, and dance, acting and voice schools.
The mandatory health protocols for each business activity will crafted and implemented soon, he said.
Leisure activities such as cinemas, videoke bars, cockfighting and the operation of cockpits, beer houses and similar establishments serving alcoholic drinks, and kid amusement industries are still prohibited in any form of community quarantine.
Metro Manila and Calabarzon remain in general community quarantine but some sectors have called for the swift transition to MGCQ.
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