Malacañang on Tuesday, May 11, said it has yet to be determined whether there is community transmission of the Indian COVID-19 variant B.1.617 in the country to warrant the extension of the modified enhanced community quarantine (MECQ) in the National Capital Region Plus (NCR Plus) bubble.
The Department of Health (DOH) confirmed on the same day that there are two cases of India’s double-mutant variant in the Philippines. The variant is called as such because it contains two famous mutations—the L452R and E484Q that could help the virus evade an immune response.
In his virtual press briefing, Presidential spokesperson Harry Roque noted that the Indian variant of the SARS-CoV-2 virus is more transmissible and deadly.
“Sabihin na lang po natin na bagamat ginagawa natin ang lahat para po mapigilan ang pagpasok ng variant na ‘to eh hindi pa naman po tayo sigurado rin na mayroon ng community transmission dahil matindi naman po ‘yung ang ating pag-iingat (Let’s just say that despite doing our best to stop the entry of this variant, we are still not sure that there is community transmission because we have been very careful),” he said.
The Palace official argued that the Philippines has required passengers from India to undergo a 14-day quarantine—10 days in an isolation facility or institutional quarantine facility and four days “under the direct control and supervision” of the local government units (LGUs) where they reside.
On April 29, the government also imposed a temporary travel ban on visitors coming from India. This despite Health Secretary Francisco Duque III’s insistence that the Indian variant was not yet a “variant of concern.”
Roque did not directly answer whether the entrance of the easily transmissible and deadly B.1.617 variant will affect the decision of the Inter-Agency Task Force (IATF) on COVID-19 Response to extend the community quarantine classification in Metro Manila, Bulacan, Cavite, Laguna, and Rizal, also known as NCR Plus, which comprised almost 50 percent of the country’s economic contributions.
However, the spokesperson said that it is cheaper for the country to invest in strengthening the healthcare capacity rather than close the economy.
The IATF has since allowed the resumption of 10 percent of the dining capacity of restaurants and 30 percent in barbershops and parlors.
“Pero sa ngayon po ang ating pakiusap (For now, what we’re asking) we are aiming for total health. Alam po natin na habang nakasarado ang ating ekonomiya marami po talagang nahihirapan, maraming nagugutom (We know that while the economy is closed, a lot are suffering, a lot are going hungry),” Roque said.
The NCR Plus region has been under restrictive quarantine classification since Holy Week last month.
This resulted in the -4.3 percent contraction of the country’s gross domestic product (GDP) this quarter, up from almost -8 percent during the first quarter.
“Ang ating pakiusap po, mga kababayan, alam po natin na kapag hindi natin pinagkaingatan ang ating mga buhay hindi po tayo makakapagtrabaho (Our reminder, our fellowmen, is we know that if we don’t take care of our health, we will not be able to work),” he added.