DOH Proposes ECQ Extension In NCR Plus; Palace Wants It To Be ‘Absolute Last Resort’

Asked about the chances of President Duterte extending the enhanced community quarantine in Greater Manila Area, presidential spokesman Harry Roque replied: “I would say it’s a 50-50. “

A few commuters wait for available public transport along Taft Avenue in Manila on the first day of the enhanced community quarantine in the National Capital Region and the provinces of Bulacan, Laguna, Rizal and Cavite or NCR Plus on March 29, 2021.

The Department of Health (DOH) has recommended that the enhanced community quarantine (ECQ) in the National Capital Region and the provinces of Bulacan, Laguna, Rizal and Cavite or NCR Plus be extended for another week.

According to DOH Undersecretary Maria Rosario Vergeire, they proposed to the Inter-Agency Task Force for the Management of Emerging Infectious Diseases to make the ECQ a full two-week period.

“As of now, we still don’t have data to support this, that we need to extend. But ideally, ECQ should be at least two weeks so we can see the decline in the number of cases after the two weeks and the effect on our healthcare utilization rate,” she told AdChoiceTV News in an email.

Vergeire noted the DOH will assess the situation at the end of the week “so we will know if we will extend or just have stricter restrictions but ECQ is lifted.”

Vergeire said two weeks are not enough to see if the ECQ will have an impact in terms of the availability of beds for COVID-19 patients or the healthcare utilization rate (HCUR).

But extending the lockdown in Metro Manila and four nearby provinces is the “absolute last resort,” presidential spokesman Harry Roque said, even if health experts have warned that a weeklong imposition of the strictest quarantine is not enough to sustain the reduction in COVID-19 infections.

NCR Plus or the Greater Manila Area was placed under ECQ from March 29 to April 4 to stem the surge in COVID-19 infections and to prevent the overwhelming of healthcare facilities. The weeklong lockdown has limited the movement of more than 20 million people and has forced several businesses to suspend their operations

Health experts in the government’s pandemic task force have said that the enforcement of the ECQ for a week would decrease the number of infections but the figures may shoot up again once the restrictions are lifted. They have recommended an extension of the lockdown to ensure the sustained decrease in the number of COVID-19 cases.

Roque expressed hope that there would be no more need to prolong the lockdown.

“We expect that because of the one-week ECQ after a weeklong enforcement of the NCR Plus bubble, accompanied by wearing of face masks, handwashing, and physical distancing, and the intensified C.O.D.E (Coordinated Operations to Defeat Epidemic) or house-to-house search for people with symptoms and the intensified testing and isolation, we hope there will be no need for an ECQ,” he said.

The government imposed additional restrictions within NCR Plus bubble a week before they were placed under ECQ as an initial response to the soaring number of COVID-19 infections.

Asked about the chances of President Duterte extending the ECQ in NR Plus or Greater Manila Area, Roque replied: “I would say it’s a 50-50. We’re hoping that the one-week bubble and one-week ECQ will lead to lower numbers.”

“What is important is our critical care capacity. We declared ECQ to prepare our healthcare system to treat serious cases,” he said.

Roque noted members of the Inter-Agency Task Force (IATF) for the Management of Emerging Infectious Diseases would meet on Saturday, April 3, to discuss whether to extend the lockdown in the NCR Plus areas.

Vaccine czar Carlito Galvez, Jr. said the IATF is open to the recommendation of experts to extend the lockdown.

“If we see a continuous steep rise, an exponential increase, if cases do not plateau or go down, that means we have to complete the intervention we are having. We are open to the recommendation of our expert to extend it to 14 days because they said the inoculation period of the virus is 14 days,” Galvez explained.

Galvez said the government may continue to enforce the bubble in Metro Manila and the four provinces that are under ECQ because most of the workers are residing in the Greater Manila Area.

New quarantine groupings

The government has also placed some areas under tighter quarantine classifications to contain the spread of COVID-19.

Speaking during his public address on Monday, March 29, Duterte said Santiago City in Isabela would be under modified ECQ or semi-lockdown for the entire month of April. Quirino Province will also be under the same quarantine classification from April 1 to 15.

The entire Cordillera Administrative Region, Cagayan, Isabela, Nueva Vizcaya, and Batangas in Luzon; Tacloban City for the Visayas; and Iligan City, Davao City, and Lanao del Sur in Mindanao will be under general community quarantine (GCQ) next month. The rest of the country will be placed under the most lenient modified GCQ for the month of April.

Duterte said the enforcement of pandemic-related lockdowns is not unique to the Philippines.

“Why are we doing this? Is it because of the government’s shortcomings? Is the government not doing anything? You know, Ukraine, France, Germany, Poland, and Italy are also imposing lockdowns. Seventy-five percent of Italy have entered a new lockdown in a bid to fight the rising rates of coronavirus. It’s not just us,” the President added. “They are the first ones to access vaccines…but they recorded reinfections and there are new strains and that’s what I am afraid of.”

Reporting by Albert Rovic Tan

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