Malacañang on Monday ruled out the possibility of returning Metro Manila to the strictest enhanced community quarantine (ECQ) this month despite a spike in the country’s new COVID-19 cases.
Presidential spokesman Harry Roque, however, said he could not tell yet about April, citing the high reproduction number or r-naught of the coronavirus.
“We don’t know yet. If we do not suppress the r-naught of 1.9, this means a person can infect at least two people,” he said.
Metro Manila has been under a general community quarantine (GCQ) since June 2020.
President Rodrigo Duterte was to meet members of the Inter-Agency Task Force for the Management of Emerging Infectious Diseases on Monday to discuss recommendations for quarantine rules nationwide.
“I really do not know what will happen in April. That’s why we’re closely monitoring it,” said Roque, who himself contracted the virus.
The Philippines logged 5,404 new COVID-19 cases Monday, bringing the total to 626,893, as five laboratories were not able to submit their data on time, the Department of Health (DOH) reported.
Eight new fatalities brought the death toll from COVID-19 to 12,837, which is 2.05 percent of the total cases.
The DOH also reported that there were 71 new recoveries, bringing the total recoveries to 560,577, which is 89.4 percent of the total cases.
This left 53,479 active cases, which is 8.5 percent of the total. Of the active cases, 92.4 percent are mild; 4 percent are asymptomatic; 1.4 percent are critical; 1.4 percent are severe; and 0.73 percent are moderate.
The DOH also reported that, nationwide, 54 percent of the total number of ICU bed capacity is available; 62 percent of the total isolation bed capacity is available; 70 percent of the total number of ward bed capacity is available; and 74 percent of the total units of ventilators are available.
An adviser to the DOH said the government must pay close attention to the surge in cases as infections have already breached 620,000 a year into the pandemic.
Dr. Anna Ong-Lim, who is part of the technical working group that advises the Department of Health, said the rise in COVID-19 cases was the same as it was in July and August last year.
“We have to be ready for what might happen with this new increase in cases," Lim said.
A researcher who has been tracking the pandemic, Guido David of the OCTA Research group, warned that the Philippines may record up to 8,000 daily new COVID-19 cases by the end of the month if the current reproduction rate does not change.
The projection is based on a 1.9 reproduction rate or the number of people infected by a virus patient, David said.
In the National Capital Region, local chief executives reintroduced tougher restrictions on movement—including a 10 p.m. to 5 a.m. curfew--hoping the two-week long measure can bring the spike under control.
Metro Manila Police said it would enforce "maximum tolerance" as the capital region's uniform curfew began Monday.
Essential workers, authorized persons outside their residence (APOR) and those with emergencies are allowed to go outside during the 2-week curfew, said Metro Manila Police chief. Brig. Gen. Vicente Danao Jr.
The PNP will set up checkpoints at COVID-19 hotspots.
Those who violate minimum health protocols such as non-wearing of face masks and face shield, and non-observance of physical distancing will be penalized according to local ordinances, Danao said.
Manila police chief Gen. Leo Francisco said in his city, first time curfew violators will be sent to exercise in a basketball court, but succeeding violations will bring fines.
Police who abuse their authority will face administrative charges, Danao said.
OCTA’s David said the effect of the two-week curfew would be seen this week.
President Rodrigo Duterte last year restricted the movement of 12.8 million people in Metro Manila after 52 coronavirus infections were reported.
A year later, the Philippines has tallied some 621,498 COVID-19 cases.
In Metro Manila, daily virus cases could reach 5,000 to 6,000 by end of March and 14,000 by mid-April, David said.
The DOH on Monday urged the public to wear face masks even at home to prevent the clustering of COVID-19 cases within households.
DOH Epidemiology Bureau director Dr. Alethea de Guzman, in an interview on GMA News, said wearing face masks at home will help cut the chain of transmission.
The DOH had earlier expressed concern about family clustering amid a spike in COVID-19 cases.
Health officials also urged those who tested positive for COVID-19 to recuperate in a facility instead of their homes.
Senate President Pro Tempore Ralph G. Recto said the best way to honor those who died from the disease is for the government to arm for a final push against the virus.
“Like any war, the people can only be assured of victory not with words but with a show of weapons in use: vaccines in the arms of the people,” Recto said.
He said Malacañang should use the anniversary of the pandemic to unveil a 100-day plan for a summer offensive from April to June, with clear targets in terms of the number of people vaccinated, the number of vaccines that will arrive, and where they will be sent.
“We need a battle plan that will not only unify the nation, but will lift our spirits and assign us the role we have to play. This is the clear tunnel vision we need,” Recto said.
He noted that this is the government’s to-do list from now until the State of the Nation Address, so that when the President speaks to the nation on the fourth Monday of July, it is to declare victory and announce that the long national nightmare will be over soon.
Senator Imee Marcos, on the other hand, called for an overhaul of the IATF, asking: “What exactly have they accomplished after one year?”
In that time, she said, families and businesses have suffered due to loss of income, health workers got sick and a number have died, and local government units have run out of funds and resources.
“What will the IATF recommend this time to control this new surge?”she asked.
“We have been imprisoned in our house for one year, our. children have not learned in school for one year, our people have lost their earnings for already one year—it's an anniversary not worth remembering or celebrating,” Marcos said.
Sen. Panfilo Lacson said as the government faces more challenges in the second year of its response to the COVID-19 pandemic, it should be more open to constructive criticism as well as the efforts of the private sector.
He also said the government should evaluate the actions it has taken so far and sustain the strengths while addressing the weaknesses of its response.
“Now is the time for an evaluation, what the government did right and what it did wrong," he said.
"Instead of rejecting constructive criticism, it should accept it as part of their planning and continuing assessment. Our aim is to call their attention to things they may not realize. No one has a monopoly of wisdom and knowledge," he added.
Senator Risa Hontiveros said instead of rolling out aggressive health-based approaches, the government responded through undeserving promotions, pats-on-the-back, and premature celebrations.
The consequence of this is that the country now faces 5,000 cases daily, almost 13,000 deaths, an increasing debt of $14 billion and only 1 percent of the whole population vaccinated.
She said IATF continues to use silly and ineffective band-aid solutions as a smokescreen for the fact that the real systematic response has still not yet been made.
Senator Nancy Binay on Monday expressed alarm that minimum health protocols are no longer being observed nor being implemented in public places, or even by public officials.
“What’s ironic is that after a year since the lockdown, we are still here. It seemed that nthing has changed—same problems, same issues, same recommendations (hard lockdown, curfew, liquor ban, etc),” she said.
She said the DOH downplaying the rise in cases and the recommendation of the IATF to open tourism, and other sectors gave the impression that the country was back to normal—which is not the case.
She also said everything is not fine simply because the vaccines have begun to roll out.
“How can we expect people to consciously follow health protocols when even our national and local government officials do not conscientiously follow minimum health protocols?” Binay said.
Camarines Sur Rep. Luis Raymund Villafuerte urged the administration to intensify efforts to hasten the rollout of COVID-19 vaccines in the wake of drastic spike in the number of cases.
The legislator issued the statement over the weekend after Health Secretary Francisco Duque III admitted that the vaccine rollout was off to a slow start.
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