By Hannah L. Torregoza
Senator Cynthia Villar has expressed support for the proposal to place parts of the National Capital Region (NCR or Metro Manila) under general community quarantine (GCQ) after May 15.
Villar said the Metro Manila Council and the Inter-Agency Task Force for the Management of Emerging Infectious Diseases (IATF-EID) should consider lifting the enhanced community quarantine (ECQ), especially in places identified as low and moderate risk in terms of the number of coronavirus disease (COVID-19) cases.
“I agree that we should start reopening the economy and begin the implementation of new normal measures in Metro Manila areas that have been successful in keeping their COVID-19 cases under control,” Villar said in a statement late Sunday.
The prolonged ECQ is taking a toll on the economy and employment situation in the country and causing distress among workers and their families, Villar said.
“We all know that the government cannot provide assistance to everybody affected by this public health emergency,” she added.
“We should now start reopening the economy with health protocols such as the use of face masks and the practice of social distancing strictly implemented.”
Villar had earlier recommended allowing workers in labor-intensive sectors such as construction, manufacturing, and agriculture to resume operations to reopen the country’s economy which was affected in light of the COVID-19 crisis.
By now, the senator said the places where COVID-19 cases are concentrated are already identified by the local government.
As of May 8, Metro Manila areas that have the lowest number of cases per 100,000 population are: Caloocan (14.5), Navotas (14.9), Malabon (15), Valenzuela (17.1), Marikina (28.1), Las Pinas (32.6), Muntinlupa (32.9), Taguig (33.2), and Pateros (33.8).
“Strict quarantine measures will continue to be implemented here while quarantine measures can be eased in low-risk areas,” Villar said.
She said she is certain that the prospect for the reopening of the economy and easing of quarantine measures “is bright now that we have big quarantine facilities and improved testing capacities.”
No vaccine, no ‘normal’ But Presidential spokesman Harry Roque said even is some areas are placed under GCQ, life will not yet return to normal.
Roque said any shift from ECQ to GCQ still requires the public to observe health protocols, including physical distancing rule, until the vaccine to COVID-19 is found.
A decision on whether to lift or extend ECQ in Metro Manila and other high-risk areas beyond May 15 will be tackled in President Duterte’s meeting with the government task force on Monday. The President is expected to deliver a message to the public afterwards, according to Roque.
“Whether it be ECQ, GCQ, may CQ pa rin (There is still CQ). We are still under community quarantine,” he said during a virtual press conference at the Palace Monday. “Life will not be back to normal hanggang wala pang bakuna (if there is still no vaccine),” he added.
Even if the GCQ is declared in some areas, Roque said the situation remains “critical” since the threat of coronavirus has not yet been eliminated. With no coronavirus vaccine still in sight, he admitted that people cannot yet return to their pre-coronavirus lives.
“The quarantine is not yet over so we have to be careful. The shift from ECQ to GCQ means the threat remains. It may not be severe but the situation is still critical even if GCQ is declared,” he said.
“We cannot go back to normal, to the life before COVID-19 if there is no vaccine, no cure. If we insist or turn a blind eye to COVID-19, our lives will be at stake,” he said.
Regardless of the quarantine status, Roque urged anew the public to embrace physical distancing and hygiene measures to combat the spread of the coronavirus. He warned that the country’s healthcare capacity might be overwhelmed with cases if the public will ignore health precautions.
“The rise and fall of COVID-19 cases is in our hands,” he said.
Increased testing capacity Meanwhile, the government expressed hope on Monday that by May 30, it will be capable of conducting 30,000 tests per day for COVID-19 and be at par with countries like South Korea.
“The goal is by May 15, we will have a capacity of about 15,000 tests per day, and by May 30, a capacity of 30,000 tests per day,” said Vince Dizon, deputy chief implementer of the National Task Force COVID-19, during an interview over CNN Philippines on Monday, May 11.
“The capacity of 30,000 per day already puts us at par with the best in the world. I am talking about countries like South Korea and other countries in the world,” said Dizon, the president and CEO of the Bases Conversion and Development Authority (BCDA). (With reports from Genalyn Kabiling and Jeffrey Damicog)