Filipinos raised apprehensions over the recommendation to place Metro Manila under the least stringent quarantine level next month and urged the government to consider the health risks at stake.
The acting secretary of the National Economic and Development Authority (NEDA) said he is hoping the entire Philippines, particularly the National Capital Region, would be placed under modified general community quarantine or MGCQ by March 21.
“The main reason is gusto na po natin ma-mitigate or mabawasan ‘yong sickness, hunger, poverty, job and income loss that are arising from non-COVID cases,” Acting Socioeconomic Planning Secretary Karl Chua said in the Cabinet’s meeting with President Rodrigo Duterte on Monday.
“At kung kailangan mag—gumamit po tayo ng localized lockdown sa barangay or municipal level to address the local spread of the virus,” he added.
Chua said the country is losing an average of P2.8 billion in wages daily.
“On average po, ang annual income loss ng isang manggagawa ay 23,000 per worker. However, alam po natin ‘yong ibang sector po hindi po pinapayagan na mag-operate under ‘yong ating community quarantine at ‘yong iba po nawalan na ng trabaho,” he continued.
‘We are not yet there’
Some Filipinos do not welcome NEDA’s recommendations and expressed their health concerns about the possibility of further easing movement restrictions amid the still prevailing COVID-19 pandemic.
“While I hate the ongoing lockdown, I think it is wise NOT to put the whole country in MGCQ by March. Vaccination has not started yet and (we) should not compromise the efforts of our frontliners in fighting the pandemic,” a Twitter user said in response to Chua’s proposal.
Another online user claiming to work in a non-COVID health facility shared some experiences concerning the pandemic.
“Bilang manggagamot sa isang non-COVID-19 facility, sinasabi ko sa inyo; sa 50 kataong pumila for (consultation), nasa 30 or 20 lang nakikita ko kasi nagpo-positive sa COVID-19 ‘yung iba. Marami-rami ‘yun,” the Twitter user wrote.
‘Prioritize medical response’
Another Filipino suggested that the government should “prioritize” mass vaccinations against the viral disease and place importance on the medical response to COVID-19 above anything else.
“Mass vaccination muna kaya or i-prioritize muna ‘yung (medical) response to COVID-19 para hindi lang ‘pansamantala’ at pabalik-balik tayo sa MGCQ at ECQ?” the Twitter user said.
Dr. Gene Nisperos, an assistant professor at the University of the Philippines’ College of Medicine, said that the administration wouldn’t be “forced” to “choose between reviving the economy and ensuring our safety” if health solutions were prioritized last year.
Last week, the Philippines ranked lowest in terms of government response to the coronavirus pandemic among member states of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations, according to a survey report.
ASEAN Studies Center’s “The State of Southeast Asia 2021 survey report” showed that a majority or 53.7% of its Filipino respondents from a more specialized cohort than those in national surveys disapproved of the Duterte administration’s handling of the public health crisis.
Meanwhile, Duterte has yet to approve NEDA’s recommendation on easing Metro Manila’s quarantine classification, according to the Palace.
“Dahil mas matimbang na nga po ang paghihirap natin dahil sa non-COVID activities, panahon na talaga para isalba ang ating mga kababayan sa gutom at hirap,” Malacañang said at a Tuesday press briefing.
Experts’ say on MGCQ plan
Two experts from the OCTA Research Group are not in favor of easing the quarantine phases in the metro during this period.
“Dapat may pamantayan sa pagbubukas. Imbis na deadline na March, tignan ang sitwasyon ng COVID-19 ngayon. Hindi pwede maging arbitrary at premature ang pagbubukas. It will be risky,” OCTA Research fellow Ranjit Rye said to CNN Philippines.
“May UK variant na sa Metro Manila. Dapat mag-ingat sa proposals. Dapat ma-achieve ang basic requisites to move to MGCQ—we are not yet there,” he added.
Rye said that the government should wait for the healthcare workers to be vaccinated before deciding to ease further restrictions.
Another fellow researcher, Guido David, said that the shift of NCR to MGCQ will depend on the country’s vaccination rollout.
“Most likely malabo kasi I doubt makakapag rollout tayo ng one million doses sa Metro Manila within February,” he said to DZMM Teleradyo.
“Mahirap pa masabi kasi depende sa rollout. ‘Yung March baka masyado pa maaga. Baka April pa,” David added.
“Ayaw din naman kasi natin magkaroon ng surge. Made-delay tayo (ng rollout) ‘pag maraming nakacheck-in na may sintomas sa hospitals,” he further said.
Economists this month said that the country’s economy might contract anew in the first quarter of this year.
Household spending, the main growth drive of the economy, would also likely stay low with the unemployment rate at 8.7 percent.
Last month, Philstar.com reported that the slump in the gross domestic product, which hit 9.5% year-on-year, has beaten the previous record of 7% contraction during the twilight years of the Marcos dictatorship in 1984.
“Going way back, last year’s performance was the worst since records started in 1946,” it added.