Several government officials turned down the call of medical professionals and groups to revert Mega Manila to enhanced community quarantine (ECQ) – the strictest lockdown measure – to contain the exponential spread of COVID-19 in the region.
The petition, backed by over 40 medical societies and groups, called on the President to put Mega Manila back on ECQ from August 1 to 15, proposing that the 2-week quarantine be used as a “time out” to refine the country’s pandemic control strategies.
Roque rejected this appeal, saying that the lockdown is not enough to control the spread of COVID-19.
“Community quarantine alone, we repeat, is an insufficient response in controlling COVID-19,” Roque said.
He explained that the strict lockdown in Metro Manila had already “served its purpose” and that the government will be using other strategies such as localized lockdown in barangays with a staggering number of COVID-19 cases.
“It is for this reason that the local government units of Metro Manila have been directed to implement a strict localized lockdown/ECQ in barangays where 80 percent of cases are located and the publication of these barangays,” Roque stated.
Hours after his statement, he notified the public that the President will immediately discuss the plea of the health workers with the Inter-Agency Task Force for Emerging Infectious Diseases (IATF-EID).
‘Do their jobs better’
The petition had pointed out the deficiency of the hospital workforce as one of the pressing problems that the government must address, as many medical workers have fallen ill or have resigned due to “fear, fatigue, and poor working conditions.”
“Facilities have had to close because of these problems,” the petition stated.
Senator Cynthia Villar, however, dismissed the health workers’ appeals, saying they just need to do their jobs better.
“Hindi na siguro. Pagbutihin nila trabaho nila,” Senator Villar said.
The petition had also appealed to the Department of Social Welfare and Development (DSWD), Department of Labor and Employment (DOLE) and other relevant government agencies to provide social amelioration programs (SAPs) to properly support families and businesses that will be affected by the health sector’s proposed timeout.
In spite of this proposition, Villar responded that the welfare of the people will also be compromised if Metro Manila is placed back under ECQ, as business operations will once again be restricted.
“Hindi pwede isara ang ekonomiya kasi kung hindi mamamatay sa COVID-19, mamamatay sa gutom ang mga tao,” Villar said.
After a massive public backlash from netizens, Villar clarified her stance, stating that government officials should do better.
‘Balancing health and economy’
The petition had also appealed to the Department of Trade and Industry (DTI) to reconsider its approval in reopening businesses such as gyms, fitness centers, tutorial services, review centers, internet cafes, pet grooming services and drive-in cinemas.
Trade Secretary Ramon Lopez rejected the medical groups’ call, saying that placing Metro Manila back under ECQ will also be “damaging” with “unemployment and poverty affecting health and wellness and nutrition intake.”
Lopez enumerated other measures which avoid another rigid lockdown, such as “granular lockdowns of buildings, streets, or barangays, massive tracing, testing, isolation, treatment and stricter compliance to health protocol in transportation and business establishments.”
“We need to manage and live with the virus which is here to stay. Balancing health and economy,” Lopez said.
The petition, however, had already indicated problems regarding the government’s implementation of these measures. The petition pointed out the government’s insistence in using “inappropriate” rapid antibody tests to be responsible for the rapid surge of cases, as these miss more than half of people with active, contagious illness.
“In addition, patients with disease confirmed by RT PCR are being turned away from isolation centers and forced to isolate in homes where this is hardly feasible,” the medical groups said.
The petition also said that contract tracing is “failing miserably” citing that while Department of Health (DOH) and IATF guidelines exist, the compliance of Local Government Units (LGUs) is only optional.
“A whole-of-society approach must be implemented, integrating the use of non-uniformed personnel and volunteers,” the groups said. [P]
Photo credits to CNN Philippines / Office of Sen. Cynthia Villar