MANILA - House Committee on Ways and Means Chair Joey Sarte Salceda is calling for an extension of the Enhanced Community Quarantine (ECQ) over Luzon.
Citing historical, scientific, and economic evidence, Salceda said that a more cautious approach to the pandemic is “evidence-based, logical, lifesaving.”
“Look – I’m as invested in getting the economy running as anybody would be. Ako po ang unang mamomroblemang maghanap ng pondo bilang Ways and Means Chair kapag hindi maganda ang ekonomiya. But a premature lifting of the ECQ would not be good for the economy. It will not fulfill our public health objectives. And it risks getting us back to square zero in terms of our progress in fighting this disease," he said in a statement.
Salceda cites his team’s modelling that shows two critical factors in fighting the disease – mobility and “isolation tendency.”
“May dalawa pong factor tayong binabantayan. The ECQ has significantly reduced mobility. You can see that in reduced energy consumption and in reduced demand for fuel. So, people are no longer moving around carrying the virus as much as they would have," he said.
“The second critical factor is what we call isolation tendency. It’s how much you isolate confirmed and suspected cases from the rest of the population. And that only increases once you know who are Covid-positive in the first place, through mass testing," he added.
Salceda said that the most reputable sources in the medical community have never suggested “to shorten the lockdown,” but have recommended quite the opposite.
He proposed a lockdown of at least 6 weeks to avoid prematurely lifting restrictions and triggering a massive wave of new infections. The Luzon-wide lockdown's duration is 4 weeks.
“The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation says we can keep lockdowns to 6 to 10 weeks, if countries do well. The Hubei lockdowns which worked remarkably were 6 to 8-week shutdowns. And Northern Italy has been on lockdown since March 9, with no end in sight yet,” Salceda said.
“Let’s also look at historical evidence. The worst pandemic the world has seen in the 20th century was the Spanish Flu. A comparison of measures showed that New York, which imposed a lockdown very early, had the lowest death rate among major cities in the US East Coast. They did it for 12 weeks. Sharp increases in death rates took place when San Francisco lifted its quarantine after 4 weeks. St. Louis had to do it for a total of 10 weeks. 5 weeks initially, but they lifted the quarantine prematurely, so they had to do it all over again. That’s what I’m trying to avoid – the need to do it all over again," he added.
In his letter to President Rodrigo Duterte, Salceda, later followed by Finance Secretary Carlos Dominguez in a separate statement to the media days later, strongly recommended mass testing to “confront the enemy.”
“We have not yet confronted the enemy or have fully grasped its dimensions. We do not yet fully know the size of its territory or the magnitude of its full impact. We must increase our testing by at least 10,000 specimens per day, contact trace and isolate with the best logical and technological means available (mobile tracking, GPS, mapping, etc.). We must identify infection clusters with data from mass testing and intensified contact tracing, and confront the virus where it is," Salceda's report said.
“Simply said, we can only make a risk-stratified stabilization or normalization if we do mass testing of at least 200,000. Based on our capacity and possible increments, we cannot do that before April 14, thus we cannot lift ECQ and we will need the next 14 days to have a better grasp of situation," it added.
“The damage to the economy will be much bigger if we have to start all over again. Nandito na po tayo. Habang tumataas na ang testing capacity natin, samantalahin na po natin yung pagkakataon to decisively end this virus. It’s wishful thinking to suggest that we’ve reached the peak. No data scientist would say that, and certainly no doctor or public health expert would be enthusiastic about lifting the ECQ at this stage in our country’s health care capacity," Salceda said.
Salceda led calls to enforce a lockdown on Metro Manila immediately following reports of community transmission in San Juan.
Salceda has also filed a bill creating a Center for Disease Control and establishing special powers to address a health emergency as early as January (House Bill No. 6096).
Salceda is also recognized as a leading advocate for disaster preparedness by international bodies such as the United Nations, where he was co-chair of the Green Climate Fund.