A targeted, calibrated easing of restrictions for Metro Manila

Published February 22, 2021, 9:34 AM

by Manila Bulletin

In the coming months, there will be need to constantly balance  the concerns  of various interests as we proceed to dismantle restrictions with the gradually improving COVID-19 situation in the country.

After  opposing  an earlier proposal of the Inter-Agency  Task Force for the Management of Emerging  Infectious Diseases (IATF-MEID)  to ease the General  Community Quarantine  (GCQ)  restrictions in Metro Manila to Modified GCQ, (MGCQ), the mayors of Metro Manila’s 17 cities and town voted last  Thursday for a shift to MGCQ .

Manila Mayor Isko Moreno explained  his vote: “We need to create some economic activity.” Malabon Mayor Antolin  Oreta III  said he could hardly tell  the difference  anyway between  GCQ and MGCQ.   On the other hand, Valenzuela Mayor Rex Gatchalian  said he voted against  easing the restrictions because  COVID-19 cases were rising in his city.

On the  same day, the OCTA Research Team said it is  risky to ease Metro Manila restrictions to MGCQ  because of rising cases in the world of new  and  more contagious and lethal COVID variants. “If restrictions in the National  Capital Region are relaxed to very loose levels, the region will be under a constant  threat of a surge due to the increased mobility of people, reduced social distancing, and diminished compliance with health protocols,” OCTA said.

It is true that with every move to ease restrictions, there is bound to be some rise in infections, as some people simply  cannot stay true to the continued need for masks, distancing, and hygiene.   We may therefore expect some rise in the number of cases when Metro Manla shifts to MGCQ   this March.

This is the same position taken by  the World Health Organization (WHO) on the worldwide  situation. Easing of quarantine measures must be done in a targeted, calibrated manner,   WHO representative  to the Philippines Dr. Rabindra Abeyasinghe said.

There is need to ease the restrictions which have locked down Metro Manila for nearly a year now, resulting in loss of income for  thusands of families amid the closure of so many businesses and industries.

There is also the report of the  Department  of Health last February 17 that from January,  2020,  to November, 2020,  there were  553,434 deaths in the country, but only 2 percent -– 11,577 -– were caused by COVID-19. The proportion  of COVID-19 deaths  hit 17 percent in April, 2020,  dropped  to 5.6 percent in May,  to 2.2 percent in July,  down to 1.9 percent in January, 2021.

Another report of the Department of Trade and Industry said some 1.6 million  Filipinos lost their jobs or have not yet returned to work in the pandemic. This should  be enough reason to push the relaxation  of the community quarantine rules,   Secretary Ramon Lopez said.

President Duterte is expected to announce  his decision on the issue today.  He may well heed the  decision of the Metro Manila mayors and ease the region into Modified GCQ, but in a targeted, calibrated manner, as stressed by the WHO.