Metro Manila will remain under a General Community Quarantine (GCQ) until the end of October, while the province of Lanao del Sur, including Marawi City, was downgraded to a Modified Enhanced Community Quarantine (MECQ), Health Secretary Francisco Duque III announced Monday night.
During a televised meeting with President Rodrigo Duterte and the Inter-Agency Task Force (IATF) on the coronavirus pandemic, Duque said the National Capital Region (NCR) would stay under GCQ for another month along with Batangas province and the cities of Tacloban, Bacolod, and Iligan.
Iloilo City will also move to a GCQ from an MECQ that ends Sept. 30, Duque added, while the rest of the country – 98 cities and all other provinces – will stay under a Modified GCQ, the lowest lockdown level amid the COVID-19 pandemic.
Duterte expressed his satisfaction with the response of local government units (LGUs) to the coronavirus crisis and assured them the national government was there for them.
“Our purpose is to serve,” the President said in the meeting at Malacanang.
He also expressed a desire to maximize the barangay health units, as they are the LGUs’ first line of defense against the dreaded disease.
Mayors in Metro Manila have expressed their preference to remain under GCQ and are ready to implement it after being under the same lockdown level for the whole of September.
In a meeting Monday, the mayors also agreed to no longer divulge their recommendations to the IATF about the kind of community quarantine that will be in place after Sept. 30
Meanwhile, Trade and Industry Secretary Ramon Lopez openly pushed for fewer restrictions under an MGCQ despite the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.
“I made this proposal even to the IATF,” he said.
This, he said, would entail the reopening of more industries but would retain the strict enforcement of minimum health standards.
Local authorities would still be expected to enforce granular lockdowns, test, trace and treat COVID-19 cases and maintain the minimum health standards.
Opening more sectors would help address poverty and hunger for workers who lost their jobs because of the pandemic and the resulting lockdowns.
Some services, such as those providing legal, accounting, and other services, could be allowed to operate at 100 percent capacity to allow more workers to go back to work, he said.
In a virtual press briefing Monday, Metropolitan Manila Development Authority general manager Jose Arturo Garcia Jr. said members of the Metro Manila Council have already submitted their recommendations to the IATF.
Garcia said it is up to the members of the IATF to approve or reject these recommendations.
“We cannot disclose it to avoid confusion. Hence, we will let the IATF decide on the matter with finality,” said Garcia.
The MMC, composed of 17 mayors in Metro Manila, is the policy-making body and the governing board of the MMDA.
Garcia noted that cases of coronavirus in NCR are already on a downward trend.
“I am happy to announce that the recorded COVID-19 cases in the metropolis are gradually decreasing. We want to maintain it to further reduce the number of cases in NCR,” he said.
Garcia said all Metro Manila mayors are ready to implement any community quarantine status, whether it is general community quarantine (GCQ) or a modified GCQ.
Metro Manila was placed under GCQ until Sept. 30 upon the recommendation of the mayors in August.
GCQ is a more relaxed form of community quarantine. Areas deemed by the task force at "low" or "moderate" risk for an outbreak are under GCQ.
Under a GCQ, public transportation resumes at a reduced capacity, people can go back to work in certain sectors, and "non-leisure" establishments can reopen.
A research group from the University of the Philippines that has been tracking the pandemic said easing quarantine restrictions in Metro Manila would be premature.
During the last two weeks, the reproduction rate of the virus in the regions has been below the threshold of "1," indicating it will eventually peter out, said Dr. Guido David of the UP OCTA Research Team, in an interview on ABS-CBN TeleRadyo.
However, the occupancy rate of hospitals was still around 60 percent.
David said this figure should be lower to ensure that patients will be admitted to hospitals in case of a surge, he said.
“The cases are going down. That means what we are doing is correct. But once we change that, our interventions and protocols, there’s always a risk of a coronavirus surge,” David said in Filipino.
“It will be better for us to bring the cases further down before we take that risk. It's a bit premature for now. We have a lot to lose if we take the risk and this leads to a surge,” he said.
David also urged the government to focus on a spike in coronavirus cases in Calabarzon and Bulacan, Iloilo and Misamis Oriental provinces.
Also on Monday, Senator Imee Marcos said the time has come for the government and local officials to open up public spaces, shorten curfews and extend business hours despite the ongoing pandemic.
“Lockdowns are keeping people in highly populated cities too cramped in their homes to observe proper distancing, also limiting their mobility to find work,” said Marcos, who chairs the Senate committee on economic affairs.
She noted that the crowded shanties of Metro Manila and the overcrowded migrant barangays of Cebu, physical distancing is practically impossible.
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