Health Secretary Francisco Duque III and senators weighed on the extension of the Luzon-wide enhanced community quarantine (ECQ) after it expires on midnight of April 13.
Duque said it is still premature for the Department of Health (DOH) to say if the number of coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) cases in the Philippines has already peaked.
He cited the need to wait for another four to five days to establish a clear trend of the COVID-19 cases.
He cited the need for sufficient epidemiological data of the novel coronavirus due to an earlier huge shortage in testing kits.
“So we still do not have a true picture of the COVID-19 situation in the Philippines,” he said.
Because of this, Duque said it was too early to say how long would the implementation of the Luzon-wide quarantine should be prolonged, but he maintained that we still cannot relax on our rules to combat the virus.
The sustained community transmission of the virus that causes COVID-19 prompted President Rodrigo Duterte to place Luzon under an enhanced community quarantine.
The public were urged to stay home but some residents are also complaining that they are already running out of food supplies due to disrupted income sources and insufficient government aid.
Secretary Carlito Galvez, chief implementer of the national action policy against COVID-19, said the number of new cases recorded in the country has dropped from 538 on March 31 to 322 on April 2. The respective numbers of new cases from April 3 to 5 have not surpassed the said count on March 31.
Sen. Chriatopher “Bong” Go said he favors extending the Enhanced Community Quarantine for a few more weeks until the number of COVID-19 cases starts to substantially drop.
Since the government’s capacity to conduct testing has increased, he believes it would be best to extend the ECQ so we can effectively isolate the positive cases from the rest of the community and eventually get rid of the disease.
“Let me remind everyone that we are up against an invisible deadly enemy. Going out of your house remains dangerous at this time,” said Go, chair of the Senate health committee.
He also urged the Executive branch once again to act swiftly in providing the necessary assistance to all Filipino families affected by this crisis.
As a member of the Joint Oversight Committee overseeing the implementation of the Bayanihan to Heal as One Act, he called on urge all concerned agencies to perfect the distribution system on this first month of ECQ since we still do not know how long this crisis will last.
Senate Minority Leader Franklin Drilon said he is in favor of extending the current enhanced community quarantine to April 30.
“We are only beginning to see data of symptoms post-quarantine. And I see some data that shows it is effective. But too early to tell. An extra two weeks would help,” Drilon said.
However, he said the food supply and movement of essential goods and services must be ensured during those two additional weeks.
“We can consider relaxing ECQ during May 1 to May 30. Still no travel to and from Luzon. Still no malls, churches, mass gatherings,” also said the Senate leader.
He said some establishments and transport modes could also be opened next month to help people regain income, he added.
More retail and consumer services could resume by June, the lawmaker suggested.
Senator Joel Villanueva is also in favor of the possible extension of the strict protocol.
He said increasing incidence of COVID positive individuals tells us that the pandemic is not yet over. “I am in favor of extending the quarantine,” Villanueva said.
“At the same time, we have to consult our supply chain experts as we need to probably exempt some sectors in this lockdown, especially the food, manufacturing and delivery sector,” he further stated.
Senate President Pro Tempore Ralph Recto said it would be best to relax the enhanced community quarantine if the infection rate of the virus is proven to have decreased.
“Determine from public health scientist when the infection rate is manageable or less than one. Only then can you transition to relaxing ECQ. How long? Depends on how fast government does its work and be ahead of the virus,” he said.
He added that mass testing and treatment of COVID-19 patients would be significant factors.
Senator Sherwin Gatchalian likewise echoed Recto’s view on mass testing, saying the implementation of the month-long quarantine would be wasted without mass testing.
“With the announcement of the Chief Implementer, [retired) General Galvez, that mass testing can only be conducted on April 14, which is still 11 days from now, we are left with no other choice but to extend the ECQ by at least two weeks,” he said.
“Mass testing of persons under monitoring and persons under investigation is the only way to determine if we are winning the war or not. Without mass testing, we are totally blind,” he added.
Other senators found it challenging to give a definite advice on whether to extend or lift the enhanced community quarantine.
“Have to study it well. Balance safety and economy. I agree with the thinking, ‘Life first, economy later,'” Senate President Vicente Sotto III said.
He acknowledged that lifting strict protocols should not be done in a whim.
“That’s difficult to do. We have to play it by ear,” Sotto said.
Senator Panfilo Lacson shared the same stand. Hd said it’s a most difficult decision to strike a balance between flattening the curve of COVID-19 and the looming economic recession due to inactivity.
“It is better left to those who have unlimited access to all the data to decide which is the best course of action to take moving forward,” he added.
Nevertheless, Lacson said the Congress could help in the policy direction if it is armed with enough data.
He said authorities should come up with a decision “soon enough to prepare but not too late to make things worse.”
Senator Francis Tolentino also believes the decision on lifting or extending the enhanced community quarantine should be backed by “empirical basis,” with equal considerations for public health and economy.
“I leave that decision to the President, however, we should have an economic stimulus law to resuscitate the economy in the long term which is likewise a job of Congress,” he added./Stacy Ang