MANILA - A House leader on Monday pushed for another 2-week extension of Luzon's enhanced community quarantine, saying the reopening of the Philippines' most populous island despite the continuous spread of the coronavirus "would be willful neglect."
The government should test at least 0.22 percent of the population and ensure that health workers are fully protected from COVID-19 before lifting the lockdown, House Ways and Means Chair Joey Salceda said, noting that scientific evidence on the disease in the country has yet to reach "a point of justified confidence."
"Lifting the enhanced community quarantine amounts to carelessly exposing the entire population to infection, no matter what residual social distancing," Salceda said in a statement.
"We’re simply not there yet no matter how much we wish this pandemic to end," said the congressman who co-chairs the House Economic Stimulus Cluster.
"It would be almost willful neglect to say that the country can now reopen," he said.
With about 130,000 COVID-19 tests expected to be conducted by April 30, the government has only tested 0.1 percent of the population, the lawmaker from Albay said.
"We are most possibly missing many positive [cases] especially asymptomatic cases that are undetected and at large," he said.
Salceda added that while the NTF has succeeded in bringing down the number of interactions, the Philippines' healthcare system would be "at risk" if the government allows "a big swathe of social contacts exposed to an epidemic with doubling time of 12 days."
"We would simply overwhelm their nascent capacities, opening the margin for mistakes," he said.
"In the medium term under such scenario, the consequences on consumer confidence would be aggravated," he said.
Salceda said asking policymakers to choose between health or the economy "is a mischaracterization of the tradeoff and a short-sighted assessment of the situation."
"The idea that we are choosing between economic damage and health damage is misguided. We are trying to minimize both [damage]," he said.
"At this rate, opening up the county and hoping that we will not have to lock it down again is wishful thinking," he said.
"Let’s finish the job now, when we are already building on some successes, rather than erase those gains and then face a second wave later."
President Rodrigo Duterte earlier extended the month-long Luzon lockdown to April 30 to curb the spread of COVID-19 in the country.
Current and former Health secretaries and other experts are expected to convene in Malacañang at 4 p.m. to discuss the coronavirus crisis with the President.