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Philippine govt preps for ‘new normal’ transition

A makeshift lockdown's barricade blocks a street from outsiders to protect a neighbourhood from the spread of coronavirus disease (COVID-19) in Manila, Philippines, March 23, 2020. REUTERS/Eloisa. Sketched by the Pan Pacific Agency.

MANILA, Feb 18, 2021, The Manila Times. The government is preparing for the transition of areas with no transmission of coronavirus disease 2019 (Covid-19) to the “new normal,” Malacañang said on Wednesday as local government officials backed moves to shift to a less restrictive quarantine classification, The Manila Times reported.

Palace spokesman Harry Roque Jr. said the Inter-Agency Task Force for the Management of Emerging Infectious Diseases (IATF-EID) was crafting the do’s and don’ts for the possible transition to new normal of areas with zero transmission in the past month.

“’Yan naman po talaga ay napag-usapan na ng ating IATF at ang inaantay lang po natin ay yung mga do’s and don’ts (That has been discussed by the IATF, and we are just waiting for the dos and don’ts),” Roque said in a television interview.

“Meron naman po tayong mga lugar na natigil na po ang transmission ng Covid-19 (There are now areas where the Covid-19 transmission already stopped),” he added. He did not identify these areas.

The new normal classification used to be the lowest quarantine classification before the IATF-EID removed it in June.

Under the IATF-EID’s guidelines on the implementation of community quarantine, new normal refers to “emerging behaviors, situations and minimum public health standards that will be institutionalized in common or routine practices and remain even after the pandemic while the disease is not totally eradicated through means such as widespread immunization.”

“These include actions that will become second nature to the general public as well as policies such as bans on large gatherings that will continue to remain in force,” it added.

There are four levels of community quarantine: enhanced community quarantine or ECQ, which is the strictest; modified enhanced community quarantine or MECQ; general community quarantine or GCQ; and modified general community quarantine or MGCQ.

For the month of February, areas under GCQ include Metro Manila, Cordillera Administrative Region, Batangas, Tacloban City, Iligan City, Davao del Norte, Davao City and Lanao del Sur.

The rest of the country is under MGCQ, the most lenient quarantine classification before the new normal.

On Wednesday, provincial leaders backed the recommendation to relax quarantine restrictions nationwide.

Presbitero Velasco Jr., national president of the League of Provinces of the Philippines, acknowledged that some provinces have high infection rates.

But he backed the recommendation of the National Economic Development Authority to place the entire country under MGCQ by March.

“It’s okay if they will downgrade to MGCQ and we can see from the policy or strategy of the [national] government to reopen the economy further,” Velasco, also the governor of Marinduque, said in an interview over DZBB radio.

He suggested that public transportation, such as provincial buses and jeepneys, should be allowed back.

Velasco, however, stressed that provincial and other local leaders should be given the authority to impose lockdowns without having to ask the permission of the IATF-EID.

He said the national government does not consult local officials in revising quarantine classifications or guidelines.

Velasco said different sectors, especially the local government units and provincial governments, should be consulted.

“We are the ones controlling the territories of our provinces,” he explained.

Worried

Some lawmakers at the House of Representatives however expressed reservations in the proposal to place the entire country under MGCQ.

House Deputy Minority leader and Bayan Muna Rep. Carlos Isagani Zarate said placing the country under MGCQ “may only compromise the safety and health of our people if there is still no free mass vaccination and testing against Covid-19 being done in the country.”

Zarate urged the government to expedite the roll out of vaccines.

“The question is what is keeping the Covid vaccines from coming when they should have arrived already according to the Department of Health? Is the national government still waiting for preferred suppliers, like those vaccines from China to come first so that they would be the ones that would be primarily used? Is this the reason why there are still no signed supply agreements for the vaccines?” he asked.

House Committee on Labor and Employment Chairman and 1-Pacman party-list Rep. Enrico Pineda also worried about a possible Covid-19 spike.

“Sa palagay ko, di pa sapat na panahon para i-open ang ating mga pinagbabawal na edad para lumabas ng kanilang mga gusali, lalo nung dumating itong bagong variant ng Covid na mas contagious talagang iwasan natin (I think this is not the time to allow persons under restricted ages to go out especially that there is a new Covid variant that is more contagious),” he said in a press briefing on Wednesday.

“Sa akin, status quo muna. Karamihan naman sumusunod sa mga patakaran, minsan nakakalimutan ng ibang kababayan dahil kailangan lumabas magtrabaho, kaya sila ay nakikipag sapalaran (For me, let’s maintain the status quo, as the majority are following protocols. Sometimes some forget because they need to go out to work; that’s why they take the risk)” he added.

Quezon City Rep. Precious Hipolito Castelo meanwhile said reopening of cinemas must be postponed until the country has achieved herd immunity or the vaccination of 75 percent to 80 percent of the population.

“The risk of allowing movie houses to reopen is too great for our people, especially considering that there are now some highly transmissible Covid-19 mutations like the so-called UK and South African variants,” she said.

Meanwhile, House Committee on Ways and Means Chairman and Albay Rep. Jose Maria Clemente “Joey” Salceda said reopening the economy should be accompanied by a strong vaccination program.

“The impact of the shift to MGCQ will not be as large as quick vaccine rollout because only NCR (National Capital Region) and a few provinces and cities are still in GCQ. The vaccination for our healthcare workers must go hand-in-hand with reopening, however. It will ensure that we have the healthcare human resource needed to address any spike due to loosened restrictions,” he said.

“We should restore public transport supply. Enough rides are the best way to ensure that there will be no overcrowding in our transport systems. Enough supply is the best way to keep rides safe, in a systems perspective,” he added. “We need to increase public transport at the same time we shift to MGCQ. Otherwise, we will be making life very difficult and unsafe for many workers.”

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