MANILA, Philippines — Extending the lockdown in Metro Manila and four nearby provinces is the “absolute last resort,” Malacañang said Tuesday, even if health experts have warned that a week-long imposition of the strictest quarantine is not enough to sustain the reduction in COVID-19 infections

The capital region and the provinces of Bulacan, Cavite, Laguna and Rizal were placed under the strictest enhanced community quarantine (ECQ) from March 29 to April 4 to stem the surge in COVID-19 infections and to prevent the overwhelming of their healthcare facilities. The week-long 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 one-week enforcement of the ECQ 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.

Presidential spokesman Harry Roque expressed hope that there would be more need to prolong the lockdown.  

“Another week or two weeks of MECQ, that is the absolute last resort,” Roque said at a press briefing.  

We expect that because of the one-week ECQ after a week-long enforcement of the NCR (National Capital Region) plus bubble, accompanied by wearing of face masks, hand washing and physical distancing, and the intensified CODE 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 added.

Gov’t open to ECQ extension

The government imposed additional restrictions on Metro Manila, Bulacan, Cavite, Laguna and Rizal – now collectively known as 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 Rodrigo Duterte extending the ECQ in Metro Manila, 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 added.

Roque said members of the Inter-Agency Task Force for the Management of Emerging Infectious Diseases (IATF) would meet on Saturday to discuss whether to extend the lockdown in the NCR plus bubble 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 said.

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 last Monday, Duterte said Santiago City in Isabela would be under modified enhanced community quarantine 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 next month. The rest of the country will be placed under the most lenient modified general community quarantine 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 said.

“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,” he added. 

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