Metro Manila mayors have agreed to add more restrictions under a general community quarantine (GCQ) for two weeks beginning Aug. 1, Metropolitan Manila Development Authority (MMDA) Chairman Benjamin Abalos Jr. said Thursday.
This as the Department of Health (DOH) said the Philippines’ COVID-19 risk classification is now back to “moderate” from the previous low risk as growth in cases swelled in the past two weeks.
“Such restrictions include no dine-in services and other measures to prevent the Delta variant [from spreading]. We are suggesting this based on the assessment on the ground,” said Abalos in a Zoom meeting with reporters.
“If possible, let’s do away with dine-in and go with take-out for now. Let’s restrict the mobility of people,” he said in a mix of English and Filipino.
On Wednesday, the Metro Manila Council asked the Inter-Agency Task Force for the Management of Emerging Infectious Diseases (IATF) to put the National Capital Region under an Enhanced Community Quarantine to prevent the spread of a more transmissible Delta variant of the COVID-19.
The MMC, composed of 17 mayors in NCR, is the governing board and policy-making body of the MMDA.
Abalos said the mayors are amenable to a return to an ECQ provided that the national government releases financial assistance to help families that will be affected by the two-week lockdown.
“What we are recommending is ECQ and today we will submit it (resolution) to the IATF,” said Abalos. “If not, we are proposing several restrictions. Let’s put more restrictions on the GCQ with heightened restrictions.”
Malacañang earlier declared that Metro Manila will remain under GCQ with heightened restrictions.
Abalos said the mayors agreed that the imposition of stricter measures must be coupled with the allocation of at least 4 million vaccines for the National Capital Region, which they commit will be administered during the two-week period.
“To achieve this, the mayors request [the government] to open vaccination to the general population without classification,” he said.
Abalos said three to four weeks ago, the growth rate of COVD-19 cases in the NCR was at -6 percent.
“However, for the past one to two weeks, there is a significant increase in growth rate which is now at 19 percent. Further, the average daily attack rate (ADAR) in the NCR for the previous three to four weeks was only at 4.69, which is comparatively low as against that of the past one to two weeks which is 5.55,” he added.
“As it is, there is now an increase of COVID-19 cases in the NCR. In fact, projections made by health experts show that daily cases may reach up to 11,000 by the end of September 2021 with the assumption that Delta variant of COVID-19 is 60 percent more transmissible and that the Prevent-Detect-Isolate-Treat-Reintegrate (PDITR) strategy and vaccination performance is status quo,” the MMDA chief said.
The IATF met Thursday to discuss the mayors’ recommendations.
Presidential spokesman Harry Roque said the IATF’s decision would depend on the availability of funds to grant financial aid in case their localities are placed under ECQ.
“We always listen to our mayors because they are implementing our policies. That’s why the IATF will listen to the mayors’ proposal this afternoon,” Roque said in an online press briefing.
Roque, however, admitted that the government lacks sufficient funds to heed the mayors’ request for cash assistance.
He noted the government took two weeks to approve the recommendation to provide assistance to individuals living in Iloilo City and its province, Cagayan de Oro, and the City of Gingoog in Misamis Oriental which are currently under ECQ.
“If their recommendation is to impose ECQ as long as there is assistance, I do not know where we will get the funds for the assistance,” Roque said. “If there will be a decision to declare ECQ pursuant to the request of the mayors, it will be contingent on the assistance that we can give.”
President Rodrigo Duterte, in his pre-recorded Talk to the People on Wednesday night, merely approved the IATF’s proposal to extend the implementation of GCQ “with heightened restrictions” in Metro Manila until Aug. 15.
Roque said the quarantine classifications for the month of August are still subject to LGUs’ appeal.
The growth rate of COVID-19 cases in the Philippines jumped to 1 percent in the past two weeks from a negative 10 percent rate some three to four weeks ago, Health Undersecretary Maria Rosario Vergeire said.
From July 22 to 28, the Philippines’ average daily reported COVID-19 cases was at 1,013, which is 285 cases higher than the average the prior week, Vergeire said during an online press conference.
Nearly all regions are showing an increase in cases, with the Cordillera Autonomous Region (CAR) as the lone high-risk region in the Philippines, data from the DOH showed.
While hospitals in CAR are half full, the growth of cases in the region jumped to 10 percent from 8 percent, with its average daily attack rate in the past 2 weeks at 7 percent, the DOH data showed.
The National Capital Region (NCR) “is a cause of concern” as the DOH saw more COVID-19 cases in several cities, Vergeire said.
“In NCR, we are flagging 11 areas but we do not call this a surge,” Vergeire said.
“We do not want the public to panic… but we have to be careful.” she said.
Makati, Las Piñas and Pasay are considered high-risk areas in Metro Manila due to their high average daily attack rate, Vergeire said.
Makati City’s intensive care units are 82 percent full, while similar beds in Las Piñas are already 93.10 percent occupied, she said.
The growth rate of cases in Pasay zoomed to 25 percent in the past two weeks from -9 percent, data showed.
The prevailing COVID-19 variants of concern in the Philippines are the Alpha and Beta variants, but the DOH urged the public to guard against the possible spread of the Delta strain, which is twice more contagious than other coronavirus mutations.
“The Delta variant has entered our country. We’ve seen it in different places so what we need to do now is to cut its transmission,” Vergeire said.
The DOH said there was a need to shorten the interval between detection of cases and isolation.
“Rapid antigen tests may be used for confirmation of suspect or probable cases and close contacts,” she said.
“Facility isolation and quarantine have to be prioritized to prevent household transmission,” she added.
The independent OCTA Research Group earlier urged the national government to launch a “circuit-breaker lockdown” to curb the spread of the Delta variant, but the IATF opted to maintain the status quo.
The DOH and the UP-Philippine Genome Center and the UP-National Institutes of Health reported the detection of 97 Delta (B.1.617.2) variant cases, 83 Alpha (B.1.1.7) variant cases, 127 Beta (B.1.351) variant cases, and 22 P.3 variant cases in the latest batch of whole genome sequencing results.
Of the 97 new cases of the Delta variant, 88 were local cases, six were returning overseas Filipinos (ROF), and three were being verified.
Ninety-four cases have been tagged as recovered and three were fatalities. The DOH is coordinating with the respective local government units to determine other information, such as exposure and vaccination status.
The total number of Delta variant cases is now 216.
As of Thursday, Metro Manila and its four adjacent provinces, Bulacan, Cavite, Rizal and Cavite, will remain under the general community quarantine (GCQ) “with heightened restrictions” from Aug. 1 to 15, the Palace said.
Roque said President Duterte approved the recommendation of the IATF to extend the GCQ with heightened restrictions due to the emergence of the more transmissible COVID 19 Delta variant.
Iloilo province, Iloilo City, Cagayan de Oro City, and Gingoog which were placed under the strictest Enhanced Community Quarantine since July 16 will remain under Ecq until August 7, Roque said.
At the same time, Roque said families in areas under an ECQ will receive P1,000 to P4,000 in cash aid.
Roque said President Duterte approved the cash aid of P1,000 each for 1 million residents in need in areas under the strictest COVID-19 lockdown.
This will be P1,000 per individual, and a maximum of P4,000 per family, Roque said.
“The funds are being downloaded to the local governments of Iloilo province, Iloilo City, Cagayan De Oro City, and Gingoog City,” he said.
The four areas were placed under ECQ, the toughest of four lockdown levels, on July 16. They would keep their ECQ status until Aug. 7.
The Philippines logged 5,735 new COVID-19 cases on Thursday, bringing the total number of infections to 1,572,287.
One hundred seventy-six new fatalities brought the COVID-19 death toll to 27,577.
The DOH also reported 4,069 persons who recently recovered, bringing the total recoveries to 1,488,437.
Active cases were at 56,273, of which 93.5 percent were mild, 1.2 percent were asymptomatic, 1.4 percent were critical, 2.3 percent were severe, and 1.61 percent were moderate.
Nationwide, 59 percent of the ICU beds, 49 percent of the isolation beds, 45 percent of the ward beds, and 38 percent of the ventilators, were in use.
In Metro Manila, 50 percent of the ICU beds, 43 percent of the isolation beds, 38 percent of the ward beds, and 37 percent of the ventilators, were in use.
In other developments:
* Trade Secretary Ramon Lopez said 1.8 million more workers will lose their livelihood if the government opts for a strict lockdown, swelling the ranks of the estimated 3.7 million jobless people.
* Manila Mayor Francisco “Isko Moreno” Domagoso ordered bureau director Romy Bagay to issue a memorandum to the city’s 896 barangay captains to be ready for a possible enhanced community quarantine (ECQ). The mayor said vaccinated individuals would be allowed to go out of their houses even without quarantine passes but must present their QR codes and waivers.