The Metro Manila Council (MMC) is one with President Duterte’s decision not to place the entire country under modified general community quarantine (MGCQ) until such time that government rolls out its mass inoculation program against the coronavirus disease (COVID-19).
This was bared by Metropolitan Manila Development Authority (MMDA) Chairman Benhur Abalos in a short statement Tuesday morning, Feb.23.
“President Duterte gave his directive to the Cabinet that the Philippines would not be placed under MGCQ unless there is a rollout of vaccines,” Presidential spokesman Harry Roque said on Monday.
“The Chief Executive recognizes the importance of reopening the economy and its impact on people’s livelihoods. However, the President gives higher premium to public health and safety,” Roque added.
The Philippines is currently waiting for its supply of the COVID vaccine from foreign pharmaceutical firms.
“As what we have always emphasized, the Metro Manila mayors would always defer to the wisdom and judgement of the President. We are one with him, and would exert all efforts and rally behind him in combating this COVID-19 pandemic,” Abalos said.
The MMC is composed of the 17 mayors in Metro Manila or the National Capital Region. It is the policy-making body of the MMDA.
Last week, Abalos, himself a former Mandaluyong City mayor, said that most of the MMC members have voted in favor of lowering lockdown protocols in the metropolis from the current general community quarantine (GCQ) to the less stringent MGCQ.
Roque also said President Duterte wants the vaccination program to start immediately.
“PRRD also wants vaccination to start the soonest possible time in order to ease the community quarantine,” he said.
Assessment by March
Following Duterte’s decision, the government will reassess the proposed nationwide shift to the modified general community quarantine (MGCQ) before the end of March if the country’s COVID-19 vaccination program starts in a few weeks, a Cabinet secretary said Tuesday, February 23.
The Philippines was scheduled to start inoculating health workers in mid-February as it expected the arrival of some 117,000 doses of Pfizer’s COVID-19 vaccine, but this was delayed because of an issue on indemnification.
“During the entire month of March, makikita natin ang rollout ng vaccination program (we will monitor the rollout of the vaccination program). Before the end of March, we will make our recommendations to the President. Of course, at any given point in time, the President may also give a decision in regards to MGCQ for the entire county,” Cabinet Secretary Karlo Nograles said in a virtual media briefing.
He noted that the Cabinet is bound to make assessments and recommendations to the President on a month-to-month basis because this has been the norm for the Inter-agency Task Force (IATF) against COVID-19.
“We will stick to that (month-to-month process),” Nograles said when asked whether the government should set a target date for assessing the country’s preparedness to shift to MGCQ.
Although Duterte recognizes the need to restart the economy and “resume the pre-pandemic upward trajectory and sustained growth of the economy,” he noted that this “should be done side by side with measures that will ensure that we do not compromise efforts to contain COVID-19.”
While waiting for the start of the rollout of vaccines, the government will focus on addressing the economic concerns in the country, including unemployment, Nograles said.
The Philippines has not received doses from vaccine makes Pfizer, Moderna, AstraZeneca, and Sinovac despite promising last year that the first doses will arrive in January 2021.
China’s Sinovac was supposed to arrive today but the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) only approved its emergency use authorization (EUA) on Monday, though it did not approve its use for health workers because of its “lower efficacy rate of 50.4% when used on health care workers exposed to COVID-19.”
Nograles said that the Cabinet will want to see the vaccine rollout first and assess the situation on the ground before it makes recommendations to the President.
“Pag maganda ang rollout, perhaps we can again try to ask the President kung ano yung kanyang magiging sentiments with regard to shifting to MGCQ (If the rollout is seamless, perhaps we can again try to ask the President what his sentiments are with regard to shifting to MGCQ),” he said.
“First thing’s first, let’s do the vaccine rollout. Let’s start inoculating the priority groups. We will consult obviously with the president…if that is enough for his consideration to a shift to MGCQ,” he added.
Acting Socioeconomic Planning Secretary Karl Kendrick T. Chua said they respect President Duterte’s decision to wait for the roll-out of the COVID-19 vaccines before the entire nation shifts to MGCQ.
“The whole of government will work hard, in cooperation with various sectors, to roll out the vaccine so that we can further open the economy,” Chua said in a statement. (With reports from Raymund F. Antonio and Chino Leyco)