By Genalyn Kabiling, Hannah Torregoza, Argyll Cyrus Geducos, and Martin Sadongdong
The government task force on top of fighting the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) outbreak will seek today to reach a consensus on the proposed next official action after April 30 when the enhanced community quarantine (ECQ) in Luzon ends.
Cabinet Secretary Karlo Nograles said the Inter-Agency Task Force for the Management of Emerging Infectious Diseases (IATF) is expected to hold extensive discussions on the “possible scenarios after April 30.”
Senator Christopher “Bong” Go said President Duterte has invited past secretaries of the Department of Health (DOH) and other health experts in a meeting today to seek their inputs on whether there is a need to extend the Luzon-wide ECQ.
Go said the President will consult with the previous DOH secretaries from the various administrations regarding the government’s COVID-19 response.
Go, who chairs the Senate Health Committee, said the next few days will be crucial for the nation as this will determine whether the government is prepared to extend the lockdown or modify it at least to get the economy running again.
Nograles said the ECQ can always be implemented again if the number of COVID-19 cases in the country resurges.
He said that while the ECQ may be lifted or modified, the government can always bring it back if there is a resurgence of COVID-19 cases.
Nograles said while the government cannot just lift the ECQ as advised by the World Health Organization (WHO), it can consider doing the lifting in phases or target which sectors could start operating again.
“Piliin natin kung ano yung mga pwede magbukas at yung workforce na pwede nating payagan na magtrabaho, ano yung mass transport systems na papayagan natin (We should choose which businesses can open again, who are allowed to work, and what public transportation to bring back),” he said.
said. “Kung papayag si Pangulong Duterte, may bagong do’s and don’ts na naman tayo (If the President will allow it, we will have new guidelines),” he added.
He said the task force will try to “balance everything” and take into consideration the five parameters before deciding on the next action plan to address the pandemic and mitigate its impact on the people.
The IATF, the policy-making government body in the battle against the coronavirus, will then present its recommendation to President Duterte.
The task group had earlier approved five parameters to help the government decide whether to partially or totally lift, extend, or expand the Luzon-wide lockdown. These 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 the availability of quarantine centers and protective gear to frontliners, and capability on contact tracing and testing; social factors; economic factors; and security factors.
Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana confirmed yesterday that he has instructed the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) to deploy more troops for the remaining days of the ECQ.
The AFP had earlier confirmed the authenticity of an internal memo, which went viral after being leaked online, advising personnel of the Philippine Air Force (PAF) to prepare for possible military takeover.
“I have directed the CSAFP [Chief of Staff, AFP General Felimon Santos Jr.] to deploy more troops in Metro Manila and other places with high COVID-19 [coronavirus disease] incidence to augment the police to strictly implement social distancing and ECQ,” said Lorenzana, who is also the chairman of the National Task Force (NTF) COVID-19.
A command guidance from PAF Commanding General (CGPAF) Lieutenant General Allen Paredes that was addressed to all Air Force commanders went viral in social media. The memo was dated April 17, 2020.
The command guidance cited the verbal order of President Duterte to the military and police in a televised public address last April 16, preparing the military and police for a possible martial law type of lockdown amid reports of rampant violations of ECQ, social distancing, and other government measures to prevent the spread of COVID-19.
Albay 2nd district Rep. Joey Salceda said yesterday there is a need to extend the ECQ for two more weeks after April 30, otherwise, the government’s efforts in containing the new coronavirus will all go to waste.
“The national interest really remains on the prudent side on retaining the ECQ for at least two weeks in May,” Salceda added.
Presidential adviser for entrepreneurship Joey Concepcion has proposed “selective quarantine” for barangays that have “overwhelming” number of coronavirus cases. The proposed barangay-level quarantine will help channel resources and services to the most vulnerable communities to curb the spread of the disease, he said.
With the proper testing and containment of the virus at the barangay level, Concepcion said key industries could resume operations and essential workforce can return safely to work.
President Duterte earlier said he would lift the quarantine once the country is given sufficient supply of the antibody treatment being developed by experts to fight the coronavirus. Duterte, however, also warned about a martial law-like lockdown, saying he would ask the military and police to “take over” if more people will defy the stay-at-home policy.
Presidential spokesman Harry Roque earlier said a “total lockdown” may be considered by the government if the country is unable to bring down the coronavirus cases. Amid reports that many people have violated the quarantine rules, Roque said Filipinos should be ashamed for showing lack of discipline.
Nograles, spokesman of IATF, has denied reports that he told a group of business leaders that President Duterte was inclined to further extend the Luzon-wide quarantine until May. He said such report was “totally false.”