President Rodrigo Duterte has extended the enhanced community quarantine (ECQ), or “lockdown” as he described it, in Luzon up to April 30 to curb the spread of the coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19).
Cabinet Secretary Karlo Nograles said the President accepted the recommendation of the Inter-Agency Task Force for the Management of Emerging Infectious Diseases (IATF-EID) to extend the Luzon-wide quarantine until 11:59 p.m. of April 30.
Duterte, earlier on Monday, announced he was inclined to extend the Luzon-wide quarantine to April 30.
“Provided, that all exemptions granted by the Office of the President or the IATF shall continue to be in effect for the duration of the extended ECQ,” said Nograles, citing the resolution passed by the IATF on Monday.
“Provided further that such extension of the ECQ shall be without prejudice to the discretion of the President to relax the implementation of the ECQ in some local jurisdictions, or the granting of exemptions in favor of certain sectors, as public health considerations and food security may warrant,” the resolution also said.
Nograles said an extension is necessary in order for the government to determine the impact of the ECQ and further increase health capacity in Luzon and other areas, including ramping up COVID-19 testing to 8,000 to 10,000 tests per day with a turnaround time of 24 hours.
“We will continue to monitor Visayas and Mindanao. But they are not obliged or under ECQ,” he also said.
“(But) Right now, wala pang need,” he said.
The extension would buy the government enough time to improve its public health response, and to prepare for a “new normal,” Nograles said.
“Kailangan natin ng extension up to April 30 para lubos pa nating mapag-aralan ang COVID-19 na disease na ito (We need to extend the lockdown until April 30 so that we can further study COVID-19.),” said Nograles.
With the extension, people are required to stay at home further to avoid transmission of the disease, he said. All the prevailing rules and exemptions during the initial lockdown of Luzon will continue, Nograles said.
The Philippines is eyeing to delay the “peak” of its COVID-19 fight or the “worst-case scenario” to 2021 in the hopes that medical experts could find a vaccine for the disease by that time, Nograles said.
For now, the government is eyeing to start massive COVID-19 testing by April 14 as it fast-tracks the accreditation of more laboratories with coronavirus testing capability. The Philippines has 10 accredited COVID-19 testing centers as of Monday.
The country has struggled with the increasing number of COVID-19 cases, and the inadequate number of test kits and laboratories that are able to run tests at the onset of the pandemic.
The initial backlog in cases resulted in a number of patients dying before learning of their test results.
Nograles said the government would use the extension to increase the country’s testing capacity to around 20,000 per day with a 24-hour turnaround time for test results by the end of April.
“Kailangan mabilis po natin ang pagbigay ng result ng test. We need to have a 24-hour turnaround time (Test results should be given quickly.),” said Nograles.
Convention centers have also been converted into quarantine facilities as part of the government’s segregation system to isolate patients who will test positive for COVID-19 and patients under investigation (PUIs).
It is also looking at ships and hotels as alternative quarantine sites, as more hospitals become overwhelmed with the rising number of COVID-19 cases.
Vice President Leni Robredo and several lawmakers have called for an extension of the enhanced community quarantine, which was originally scheduled to end on April 13, to slow the spread of the virus.
Some senators, however, said food supply and movement of essential goods and services must be ensured and that there should be mass testing for the disease to allow early detection and treatment of cases.
The Philippines has, so far, recorded on Monday 3,660 COVID-19 positive cases with 163 deaths and 73 recoveries.
Earlier in the day, the National Economic Development Authority (NEDA) said it is expecting an economic slowdown as a result of the Luzon-wide enhanced community quarantine.
“Hindi pa po namin masyado ma-quantify, pero ini-expect namin talaga na magkakaroon ng slowdown ang economy during the first quarter,” NEDA Undersecretary Rosemarie Edillon said.
Edillon, however, conceded that the worst is yet to come at this point, considering that restrictions during the COVID-19 quarantine period have hampered the flow of goods, among other issues.
“Two weeks lang ng enhanced community quarantine ang nahagip ng first quarter, kaya slowdown [ang expectation]. The second quarter is a different story,” she said.
Labor Secretary Silvestre Bello III earlier said the enhanced community quarantine has already affected 1.8 million workers.
The government has allotted P100 billion as social amelioration aid for 18 million low income families and has increased subsidy for beneficiaries of the Conditional Cash Transfer (CCT) program amid the COVID-19 pandemic./Stacy Ang