Metro Manila mayors and business leaders expressed dismay Wednesday over the government’s last-minute decision to extend tight quarantine restrictions in the National Capital Region (NCR).
Mayor Joy Belmonte of Quezon City, the biggest city in Metro Manila, said she was disappointed because the government had already announced a shift to a less stringent general community quarantine (GCQ), without complete details, before it abruptly decided on Tuesday to extend the modified enhanced community quarantine (MECQ) until Sept. 15.
“The mayors had a panic attack yesterday, especially me, since I have such a large city,” she said.
San Juan City Mayor Francis Zamora said he did not know what happened during the meeting of the Inter-Agency Task Force for the Management of Emerging Infectious Diseases (IATF) on Tuesday.
“The Metro Manila mayors depend on the guidelines given to us. I saw a resolution yesterday that was supposed to be implemented starting today but I don’t think it was promulgated,” Zamora said.
“We were already prepared to implement GCQ with granular lockdowns starting today but as I received the information last night that the MECQ will be extended, we simply just have to keep the status quo for the moment. As to what happened, I am not privy to that,” he added.
Marikina City Mayor Marcy Teodoro said the sudden policy shift not only caused confusion among the public, it also showed the lack of coordination within the country’s pandemic response task force.
Meanwhile, the Philippine Chambers of Commerce and Industry (PCCI), the country’s largest business organization, called on the government to be more careful in announcing quarantine policies.
“Authorities must be prudent in prematurely announcing half-studied policies or policy shifts as they have tremendous impact on business operations and people’s daily lives,” said PCCI acting president Edgardo G. Lacson.
He said that there is a huge financial cost on business enterprises when plans and preparations are dislocated by the last minute cancellation or postponement of the anticipated relaxation of the quarantine protocols.
He said authorities must be careful not to “recklessly raise public expectations that will not be matched by the outcome.”
“There is a risk that it might cause disappointment followed by frustrations and could trigger depression and despair,” Lacson added.
The group noted that the cancelation of the implementation of granular lockdown diminishes the credibility of official policy announcements.
“It may be apropos to remember the learnings from Aesop’s fable about the boy who falsely cried wolf too often that nobody in the village of sheep farmers believed until all their sheep were lost to the pack of wolves,” Lacson said.
Earlier, PCCI said the implementation of granular lockdowns—as opposed to city-wide or regional lockdowns-- would have a positive impact on business, since it would remove the discrimination between essential and non-essential businesses, as both would now be allowed to operate.
The Management Association of the Philippines (MAP) said the government must immediately change the “health mostly” narrative and plan to combat the COVID-19 pandemic after 18 futile months of using a community quarantine lockdown approach.
“We must strongly support a ‘Bakuna Bubble’ discussion, especially its mobility incentives for the fully vaccinated. To safely reopen the economy, we need to balance ‘vaccinate, vaccinate, vaccinate’ with ‘jobs, jobs, jobs’. Granular lockdowns should be complemented with the ability of fully vaccinated workers and consumers to partially enjoy the fruits of 18 months of community quarantine hardship,” said MAP president Aurelio Montinola.
He noted that the private sector, with the help of LGUs, has cooperated by vaccinating most of its A4 employees and observing stringent health protocols.
“We appeal to the IATF to consider this new pilot proposal immediately. Otherwise, ECQ may become known as the ‘Economy Casualty Quotient’ with positivity rate of increased poverty and hunger in the 20 percent to 50 percent range. Sadly, we then doom ourselves to becoming the ‘Permanent Sick Man of Asia’,” he added.
Also on Wednesday, the Akbayan party-list group said the IATF should reimburse small businesses that incurred heavy losses due to its last-minute decision to extend the MECQ in Metro Manila until Sept. 15.
Perci Cendaña, Akbayan first nominee, slammed the government for the so-called “laban-bawi” quarantine protocols, saying that many small businesses, such as restaurants, and their workers lost valuable resources and savings preparing for an expected shift to a different quarantine system.
“The IATF must reimburse small businesses that incurred losses due to its ‘laban-bawi’ quarantine protocols. This kind of negligence and thoughtlessness from the government hurts everyone, especially small enterprises and their workers who are trying their best to survive despite the pandemic,” he said.
“We demand an ‘incompetence fee’ from this government,” he added.
Meanwhile, the independent OCTA Research Group said granular lockdowns might not be effective if the COVID-19 infection has spread widely in some communities.
In a TV interview, the group’s Guido David said granular lockdowns might be effective if the virus affected only one village or a few villages.
On the other hand, Department of Health Epidemiology Director Alethea De Guzman said cases can be mitigated if local government units enforce stricter contact tracing and active case finding.
A spokesman for the National Task Force (NTF) Against COVID-19, Restituto Padilla Jr., said the MECQ was extended because the authorities were still awaiting the approved final guidelines for granular lockdowns.
“We had a meeting yesterday attended by Metro Manila mayors and there are still many questions that were not part of set guidelines that have to be expanded,” Padilla said in Filipino at a briefing Wednesday.
Padilla said there are still many clarifications that have been raised related to the implementation of the general community quarantine (GCQ) with Alert Levels System also known as localized or granular lockdowns.
“So the rollout of the pilot quarantine will be slightly delayed until the guidelines, that we are referring to, have been prepared and disseminated. So let’s wait for that to be clearer,” he said.
Some health care workers also sought to defer the push for granular lockdowns, he added.