MANILA — The inter-agency task force leading the country's pandemic response will meet this weekend to discuss whether or not to extend the toughest lockdown level in Metro Manila and nearby provinces, Malacañang said on Tuesday, a day after the Philippines passed the 10,000-mark for new daily coronavirus infections for the first time.
The enhanced community quarantine, the strictest of 4 lockdown levels, over the so-called NCR Bubble covering Metro Manila and the provinces of Bulacan, Cavite, Laguna and Rizal is initially set to end on April 4.
"Sa mga nagtatanong naman po kung mai-extend pa ang ECQ, pinag-iisipan po ito na mabuti ng inyong IATF at sa Sabado nga po, Black Saturday, meron kaming muling pagpupulong para isapinal kung ano nga pong mangyayari," said Palace spokesman Harry Roque.
"Another week or 2 weeks of MECQ, iyan po ay magiging absolute last resort," he said in a press briefing.
(To those asking if ECQ will be extended, the IATF is thinking thoroughly about this, and on Saturday, Black Saturday, we will meet again to finalize what will happen. Another week or 2 weeks of MECQ will be the absolute last resort.)
The IATF "will look seriously on the recommendation of our expert" to extend the ECQ if cases continue to spike, said Galvez.
The health department's Epidemiology Bureau chief Dr. Alethea De Guzman said that while the original week-long ECQ could slightly reduce infections, she said, "Posible pong tumaas na naman ang dami ng kaso natin pagkatapos na ma-lift ng ECQ."
"Isa sa mga nirerekomenda nating eksperto, baka kinakailangan i-extend," she said in a press briefing on Monday.
(The number of our cases could increase again once ECQ is lifted. One recommendation of our experts is that we might need to extend this.)
Manila and surrounding provinces were placed back under ECQ for the first time since May 2020 to try to quell the surge in cases, despite inroads late last year towards controlling the virus spread.
ECQ curbs include night curfews, and a ban on mass gatherings and non-essential movement. Only some businesses are allowed to operate at full on-site capacity under this quarantine level.
With the current curbs, Roque said, "Umaasa po tayo na sana po hindi na kinakailangan mag-ECQ."
(We hope that we won't need another ECQ.)
Video courtesy of PTV
Health experts say the surge in COVID-19 infections in the country underscores the need to expedite a national vaccination drive, with only 668,018 health care workers so far given their first of 2 shots. The government aims to inoculate 70 million people this year.
It has also struggled to secure vaccine supplies, with an inventory of 2.525 million doses, mostly of Sinovac Biotech's vaccine, one million of which arrived on Monday.
Health authorities blame the spike on poor public compliance with prevention measures and the presence of new and more transmissible coronavirus variants in the capital region, which accounts for about a third of economic activity.
"This surge is really challenging while ECQ is painful particularly for the economic sector," said Benjamin Co, an infectious disease expert in 3 Manila hospitals.
The Philippines was the first country in Asia to go under a nationwide lockdown and broad restrictions and movement curbs saw its economy slump 9.5 percent last year, its worst economic contraction on record.
Hospitals' intensive care and isolation bed capacity in the capital region have reached critical levels or above 70 percent usage, government data showed.
"I can give you beds, I can give you rooms. The problem is I cannot give you additional manpower capacity, like nurses and doctors to take care of you," Co added.
The Philippines has recorded over 741,181 COVID-19 cases, with an additional 9,296 infections reported Tuesday.
— With reports from Jamaine Punzalan, ABS-CBN News; Reuters