By Genalyn Kabiling
The proposed selective quarantine in Luzon is not yet final as the government moved to scale up targeted testing of suspected coronavirus disease (COVID-19) cases to curb the spread of the disease, Cabinet Secretary Karlo Nograles announced on Monday.
Nograles said Inter-Agency Task Force for the Management of Emerging Infectious Diseases (IATF) must still come up with “a game plan (as to) what happens after April 30” and will make a recommendation to President Duterte for his final action.
He said Presidential peace adviser Carlito Galvez Jr., chief implementer of the government’s national policy on the new coronavirus disease (COVID-19), merely mentioned the possibility of a selective quarantine after it was suggested by some stakeholders.
“Kasama yan sa discussions sa IATF. Kami ni Secretary Galvez ayaw namin pangunahan siyempre (That’s part of the discussion of the IATF. Secretary Galvez and I don’t want to preempt the decision) because the IATF is not just Secretary Galvez and myself. There are plenty of Cabinet secretaries in the IATF and other high ranking officials all discussing the probables,” Nograles said during a virtual press conference on Monday.
“When Secretary Galvez said that, that is a probable pero (but) is it final? Not yet. Because ultimately we have to come up with a game plan on what happens after April 30. And ultimately, kailangan din natin ng approval ni Pangulong Duterte (it needs the approval of President Duterte),” he said.
The same government parameters on total or partial lifting, extension, or expansion of ECQ will also be taken into consideration by the IATF, according to Nograles.
“We have to show with accuracy how these mechanism will operate and how it will be to the advantage of our health, our safety, our security, our economic and social dimensions. So, kaya nga lima ang parameters na ginagamit namin. Kung ano man ang decision namin ( we have five parameters so our decision) it will be based on those five parameters,” he said.
The parameters are the trends in the COVID-19 epidemiological curve, which include, among others, the doubling time, acceleration, or deceleration of new cases; capacity of the health care system, that includes availability of quarantine centers and protective gear to frontliners, and capability on contact tracing and testing; social factors; economic factors; and security factors.
The government has enforced strict home quarantine for Luzon residents except for certain essential workforce, suspended public transport, banned large gatherings, among others, as part of the enhanced community quarantine (ECQ) since March 17.
The Luzon-wide quarantine was supposed to be lifted on April 12 but has been extended until April 30 to give the government more time to improve healthcare facilities and resources in testing, isolating, and treating patients.
Galvez recently raised the possibility of placing selected areas under quarantine once the government lifts the ECQ in Luzon. The retired military general said this will only be possible if there will be mass testing of suspected coronavirus cases, increase in the recovery of patients, decrease in the number of new cases as well as deaths, and capacity improvement of local health care units.
He said aggressive targeted testing will be the “game changer” in the fight against COVID-19.
Some business leaders had earlier reportedly pressed for selective quarantine at the barangay level to minimize disruptions in business operations.
Nograles said the government, for now, will intensify testing, contact tracing, and isolation of coronavirus patients to contain the disease outbreak. He said they aim to “flatten the curve” to prevent the health facilities from getting overwhelmed with cases.
More testing centers have been accredited while quarantine facilities are expected to commence operations this week, Nograles said.
He also defended the government’s prompt implementation of the ECQ in Luzon in slowing down the spread of the coronavirus. He said the country’s health situation could have been “much much worse” if President Duterte did not impose a lockdown early on.
“The lockdown is a huge help. If the President did not declare the lockdown when he did, it would have been much much worse for the country. Just take a look at the numbers of rich countries,” he said.
“You can only imagine how overstretched we could have been if we did not promptly declare the ECQ,” he added.