Mayors in the National Capital Region have decided not to allow minors to go outside their home, for the meantime—at the same time that former Vice President Jejomar Binay suggested government officials should have a united voice.
Binay made this suggestion on Wednesday after observing that government officials made contradicting statements on the new lockdown policy which, he said, caused public confusion.
“We have been on lockdown for nine months. You would think that by now, government officials would have figured out how to speak with one voice. But until now, what?,” he said.
In a related development, Interior Secretary Eduardo Año urged local government units in Metro Manila and other areas under general community quarantine to draft unified guidelines for allowing minors to enter malls.
“We told them to have the same implementation from all the mayors in Metro Manila,” Año said in a television interview.
The Inter-Agency Task Force earlier allowed 15 to 65 years old to go out as the quarantine rules were eased as part of the preparation for the new normal. In Metro Manila, the GCQ status will remain until the end of the year.
The local executives and members of the Metro Manila Council have agreed with the Metropolitan Manila Development Authority to wait for the expert opinion before making a decision on whether to allow minors to go to shopping malls with their parents.
The MMC, composed of the 17 mayors in Metro Manila, is the governing board and the policy-making body of the MMDA.
In a virtual press briefing Wednesday, MMDA General Manager Jose Arturo Garcia Jr. said Metro Manila mayors had agreed to wait for the Philippine Pediatric Society’s opinion on easing of age-based restriction, whether minors should be allowed to go out and go to shopping malls.
“We have consulted with Dr. Joselyn Alonzo-Eusebio, President of the Philippine Pediatric Society on this matter. We will await their opinion, based on facts,” Garcia said.
Binay cited contradicting statements made by government officials on the supposed policy allowing children to enter shopping malls.
He said while one official said children would now be allowed to enter malls provided they are accompanied by their parents, another official clarified that the policy would still need ordinances from local government units.
“Then another official said it is not the right time to let children inside malls,” he said.
Binay suggested that government officials meet first and agree before making any official pronouncements. If such a meeting is physically impossible because of lockdown restrictions, he added, these officials can always talk using group chat apps on their mobile phones.
“Or better yet, deliberate thoroughly, have everyone on board, and prepare the talking points for those who will speak to the media. Much better, just have one person talk,” he said.
Binay said any policy intended to further ease lockdown restrictions first imposed in March should always have the safety of the public in mind.
He reminded government officials and the public that after nine months, the country has yet to flatten the curve. “We are still on the first wave. Let us not forget that,” he said.
With research groups and experts warning of a surge in COVID-19 infections after the Christmas season, Binay said he hopes the government is already making preparations to handle such a situation.
“I hope the government has learned that it’s best to anticipate, especially in the case of pandemics. Do we have enough doctors and nurses? Where are we in
terms of contact tracing?… These are the concerns that need to be addressed,” he said.
Binay said a repeat of the crisis situation during the start of the pandemic would be costly to the economy.
“We cannot afford a repeat of the first few months of the pandemic, where we had crowded hospitals, overworked doctors and nurses dying from infection, and a population in panic,” he said.
Garcia added he was expecting that the facts would be submitted by Wednesday or Thursday.
“Once it is submitted, we will call for an emergency meeting with the Metro Manila mayors. We will discuss and vote on it,” he said.
“For now, persons aged 18 to 65 are allowed to go out in areas under general community quarantine, except for accessing essential goods and services,” Garcia stressed.
Philippine Pediatric Society is a specialty division of the Philippine Medical Association.
According to Garcia, some doctors are saying minors were mostly asymptomatic, the reason the agency and the local executives were very careful on their decision.
Some parents are not in favor of the idea allowing children to go out or visit shopping malls, especially this peak buying holiday season.
They said they didn’t want to take a risk for their children.
Jas Quilitiz, 44, of Malate, Manila, said shopping mall owners and operators should not allow minors at their establishments during the pandemic.
She said she and her husband Eric recently went to a shopping center in Pasay City to buy essentials and they noticed there were a lot of “kids – from babies, toddlers and young children — in the mall.”
Quilitis said some of the children, while waiting for seats in a fastfood chain, were busy running around, playing with face masks but not wearing it properly.
“I told my husband that maybe many parents now feel “safer” because the COVID-19 stats have gone down. It is alarming to me, especially that I have an 11-year old child who we do not allow to go out and have been in our small apartment since the lockdown started last March.”
“The first time he went out was for a quick haircut last Nov. 30. Imagine that for nine months, no haircut. The barber shop is just a three-minute-walk away from our place. The barber was hesitant to cut his hair at first but granted our request after my husband asked earnestly.”
The Department of the Interior and Local Government earlier stressed that local ordinances are needed before minors can go out and visit malls during the holidays.
Garcia said the MMC and the MMDA would soon come up with their resolution on the matter. “Whatever the decision is, we will follow and we will go as one.”
Meanwhile, the MMDA urged families to avoid inviting other people when celebrating Christmas or holding parties.
“We’re not saying ‘bawal’ but we discouraged it. We can’t control family households,” said Garcia.
Año also agreed to the statement of National Capital Region Police Office chief Brig. Gen. Vicente Danao Jr. who expressed apprehension in allowing children to go to the malls.
“That’s right. If we can lessen the number of persons going out, that’s okay,” he said.
The provinces of Davao del Norte, Batangas, and Lanao del Sur, and cities of Iloilo, Tacloban, Iligan, and Davao will remain under general community quarantine until Dec. 31.
All other places in the country will be under the most relaxed modified GCQ.
Under current guidelines in GCQ areas, a person below 15 years old and those above 65 years old, with immunodeficiency, comorbidity, or other health risks, and pregnant women must remain indoors at all times, except when obtaining essential goods and services.
Meanwhile, Health Secretary Francisco Duque III maintained Wednesday children aged 14 years old and below, as well as the elderly aged 66 and above, should not be allowed to go outside to prevent COVID-19 infection.
Duque’s statement was in response to the recommendation of the Department of the Interior and Local Government allowing children seven to 14 years old to go to malls if they are accompanied by their guardians.
At the same time, Dr. Aileen Espina, national director of the Philippine Academy of Family Physicians, urged the public to stay home and limit their shopping trips this holiday season.
When going outside, the following must be observed:
· Always wear face masks and face shields properly
· Observe physical distancing of 1 meter or more
· Area should have enough air circulation
· Interacting with others up to 30 minutes only
Espina urged shoppers, particularly those seen at Divisoria, to plan their trip, ready their shopping list, and bring alcohol or sanitizers with them which should be used every time they make a cash payment.
“Let’s not waste the past nine months over a single mistake,” she added.