President Duterte could put the entire country under the more relaxed modified general community quarantine (MGCQ) on Monday next week to revive the economy that has been battered by the COVID-19 pandemic, the Palace said Friday.
Presidential spokesperson Harry Roque noted that the Inter-Agency Task Force for the Management of Emerging Infectious Diseases (IATF) has also agreed to the easing of quarantine restrictions, but said the President has yet to decide on the matter on Monday next week.
“We expect that since both IATF and Metro Manila mayors have sought the imposition of MGCQ in the country, perhaps the President might also agree,” Roque said.
Roque made the announcement following the news that Metro Manila mayors would recommend the transition to an MGCQ by March.
The National Economic and Development Authority (NEDE) earlier proposed to place the country under MGCQ by March to improve the economy, which suffered heavily in the past several months due to lockdown.
Apart from Metro Manila, other areas under GCQ in February are Cordillera Administrative Region, Batangas, Tacloban City, Iligan City, Davao del Norte, Davao City, and Lanao del Sur.
Trade Secretary Ramon Lopez, who has long pushed for an easing of quarantine restrictions, said the shift to MGCQ could not wait until COVID-19 vaccinations start as people would go hungry.
On the other hand, a former health adviser to the government, Dr. Anthony Leachon, said Metro Manila was not ready for a shift to MGCQ in March.
He cited the narrow margin 9-8 in the votes cast by Metro Manila mayors favoring the MGCQ.
“We can’t afford to have surges to overwhelm our health care system,” said Leachon, former adviser of the National Task Force on Covid-19.
“Economic depression is the most compelling reason for this decision driven by NEDA and DTI, but I feel we need to protect our people first and impose MGCQ at the proper time,” Leachon said.
He said the shift to an MGCQ could be done when the vaccination program starts in three to six months.
He added that selective easing of restrictions could be done in cities or towns with fewer COVID-19 cases.
New COVID-19 cases are hovering at 1,800 to 2,000 cases a day, Leachon said, and the reproduction number of cases in the Philippines was greater than 1.0, which meant there is a propensity for transmission.
He also cited threats of new variants such as B117 and the South African variant.