NCR ready to revert to GCQ, says Lorenzana; solon thinks otherwise

National Task Force Against COVID-19 chairman Secretary Delfin Lorenzana said Monday that the National Capital Region (NCR or Metro Manila) is ready to revert to the less restrictive General Community Quarantine (GCQ) after Aug. 18.

An armed member of the police special action force speaks to residents as he mans a checkpoint along a street in Navotas in suburban Manila on July 16, 2020.

“I think the trend is going down. Yesterday, mga 3,000 na lang 'yung bagong kaso (We only had 3,000 cases), down from 6,000 previously, so I think we’re ready to go down (to GCQ),” Lorenzana told ANC in an interview.

Lorenzana, secretary of the Department of National Defense, was comparing the 3,109 new cases recorded on Aug. 9 with the 6,352 new cases listed on Aug. 4. However, for the past week, the number of new cases have been averaging from 3,000 to 4,000.

Aug. 9's record was the lowest among the new cases last week. There were 5,032 new cases on Aug. 2; 3,226 on Aug. 3; 6,352 on Aug. 4; 3,462 on Aug. 5; 3,561 on Aug. 6; 3,379 on Aug. 7; and 4,226 on Aug. 8.

However, Aug. 9's record also had the highest recorded new fatalities with 61.

But House Committee on Health chairwoman Quezon Rep. Angelina Tan had earlier said two weeks of Modified Enhanced Community Quarantine (MECQ) is not enough as no are no clear changes in the number of cases.

“Actually to tell you honestly, hindi talaga siya enough (the 15-day breather is not enough), like for example, almost one week na tayo (we’re almost one week) and hindi natin nakikita ang (we have not seen any) changes in the numbers nung ating (of our) cases so ‘yung two weeks is not enough para talagang maachieve natin ang target na mapababa ang numero ng kaso (to achieve out target to reduce the number of cases),” she told the DZBB in an interview Sunday.

The NTF chairman added the country can no longer "continue" to be under a Modified Enhanced Community Quarantine (MECQ).

President Duterte placed Metro Manila and four provinces under MECQ from Aug. 4 to 18, following a call for a “time out” from the medical community.

But House Committee on Health chairwoman Quezon Rep. Angelina Tan said the two-week “timeout” granted to the medical community is “not enough” to address the problems in the country’s healthcare system.

She said the medical workers should be given more time and lee-way to strategize and come up with a definite plan to address the problems hounding the country’s healthcare system.

Lorenzana said the possibility of extending the MECQ in Metro Manila is still there but this will only be considered if the new cases reach as high as 10,000 to 12,000 per day.

Presidential spokesman Harry Roque said the extension of the MECQ in the NCR and nearby areas would be up to the Inter-Agency Task Force for the Management of Emerging Infectious Diseases (IATF) as it is a delicate decision to be made.

“On the suggestion to make the MECQ effective for one month, this is a decision that has to be made by the (IATF),” he said.

“It entails a delicate balancing of protecting and saving people’s health to protecting and saving the economic health of the nation,” he added.

According to Roque, the Palace will have to wait to assess the existing MECQ because its effects will not be felt immediately.

“We understand that the effects of the recent implementation of MECQ measures in the NCR and nearby areas would be felt two to three weeks after its enforcement,” he said.

“The incubation period for COVID-19, according to health experts, is 14 days so we just have to wait for that time to ascertain the health impact of the MECQ classification,” he added.

But Lorenzana said the government is now capable of locating areas where most of the cases were being recorded.

"We already know the areas with the infectation. That's where we will focus so that the other (areas) can also go to work," he said.

Health Undersecretary Maria Rosario Vergeire said that it will take two to three weeks before the effects of the timeout are felt. 

Lorenzana  admitted that there are still concerns that need to be resolved such as the lack of health care workers in the frontlines.

He said this is being addressed by DoH Secretary Francisco Duque III by getting medical workers from nearby regions where the cases are manageable.

"At the same time, the DoH is also hiring additional nurses. They have the money, all they have to do is to hire them," he said.

The Defense chief said that one challenge  is that nurses are reluctant to be employed since the DoH is only giving them a three-month contract.

"Secretary Duque thinks nobody would get into this very dangerous job especially in this pandemic with a three-month contract. After that, what will you do?" he said.

"I think they are raising this about to six months," he added.