Senators back lockdown extension in areas with COVID-19, bat for mass testing

Katrina Domingo, ABS-CBN News

Posted at Apr 20 2020 07:56 PM | Updated as of Apr 20 2020 08:08 PM

Filipino cops gather under a tent as President Rodrigo Duterte announces the enhanced community quarantine in Luzon. Basilio H. Sepe, ABS-CBN News

MANILA - Senators on Monday backed the possible extension of the enhanced community quarantine in areas with high cases of coronavirus disease (COVID-19), saying the lockdown in these places should not be lifted until mass testing has been conducted.

The senators gave their recommendations shortly before President Rodrigo Duterte met with former Health secretaries and medical experts in Malacañang to seek advice about the possible extension of the Luzon lockdown.

"Bilang isang senador ay sang-ayon po ako na iextend ang enhanced community quarantine sa National Capital Region dahil dito po tumataas ang cases," said Senate Health Committee chair Christopher "Bong" Go.

(As a senator, I am in favor of extending the enhanced community quarantine in the National Capital Region because cases continue to increase here.)

"Mas mahihirapan po tayo habulin kung dumami yung positive cases at hindi kakayanin ng ating mga ospital at healthcare workers. Mas malaki po ang ating problema," he said in a video message.

(It will be harder for us to cope if the number of positive cases will continue to increase. It will be a bigger problem if our hospitals and healthcare workers can no longer accommodate them.)

Some senators said they would not be in favor of lifting the lockdown unless the government's mass testing program is bolstered to include asymptomatic patients.

"Unless we are to undertake mass testing asap, a possible extension of the enhanced community quarantine is looming specially in areas where contamination because of thick population is present," Senate President Vicente Sotto III told reporters in a text message before attending the Palace meeting.

"Malinaw na hindi dapat limitado sa mga taong may malalang sintomas ng COVID-19 ang ginagawang testing ng pamahalaan para matigil ang pagkalat ng sakit na ito," opposition Sen. Risa Hontiveros said in a statement.

(It is clear that the testing should not be limited to persons who have severe symptoms of COVID-19 for us to stop the spread of the disease.)

"It is clear that even people without symptoms of COVID-19 can carry and spread the disease among their families and communities. We have to test as many people as we can, as soon as we can," she added.

"Hanggang hindi nagkakaroon ng mass testing sa mga kababayan natin mas makakabuti na ma extend pa ito ng konti para sa safety ng ating mga kababayan," Sen. Manny Pacquiao said.

"Ang pera kikitain pa pero ang buhay hindi na natin maibabalik kapag nawala," he said.

As of April 14, the Department of Heath said that it has been testing about 3,000 COVID-19 patients per day.

Under the Department of Health's "expanded" COVID-19 testing guidelines, individuals with relevant history of travel and exposure or contact, and health care workers with possible exposure to the disease would also be tested for the disease.

12,000 TESTS A DAY

The government should be able to test at least 12,000 people a day before lifting the lockdown, Sen. Sherwin Gatchalian said.

The government can do this by entering into partnerships with the private sector instead of having a "too controlled and centralized" system, Sen. Panfilo Lacson said.

"The Department of Health is doing a too controlled and centralized and testing which they don’t have the capacity to undertake on a massive scale anyway for reasons known only to them," Lacson said.

"The business sector can help by subsidizing or spending for the deployment of those health personnel in order to cover a considerable number among our population thus getting a more accurate infection rate," he said.

People line up at a grocery to stock up on essential supplies. Mark Demayo, ABS-CBN News

Several conglomerates have already procured their own COVID-19 testing kits for their employees, said Joey Concepcion, Presidential Adviser on Entrepreneurship.

"Almost everybody is going to do it (rapid antibody tests) because they want to be sure the employees that are sick do not infect other people," Concepcion said.

"Most of the conglomerates are in," he said.

BALANCE BETWEEN PUBLIC HEALTH AND ECONOMY

Lockdown in areas with low COVID-19 transmission may be eased to spur economic activity, other senators said.

"Lifting the lockdown in certain areas with low or no transmission will allow people to work, earn and provide for their families. That will help in restarting our economy," Senate President Pro-Tempore Ralph Recto said.

"We can start operating some industries that are big economic contributors like construction and manufacturing but with regular randomized testing of workers aside from the social distancing, sanitizing and face mask protocols," Sen. Joel Villanueva said.

The lockdown needs to be modified in some low-risk areas to cushion the economic impact of the coronavirus lockdown, Gatchalian said, noting that the country loses about "P200 billion a month" due to restrictions related to the global pandemic.

"In terms of output, our economy is not moving and it means we are losing," Gatchalian told reporters in an online press conference.

"Not only that, yung mas concern ko is yung nararamdaman ng tao on the ground dahil wala talaga silang kita at itong mga ginagawa ng LGUs na mga food packs, okay yan pantawid but hindi pwedeng for a long long time because ang mga food packs obviously ay pangtawid lang talaga, hindi sya sustainable," he said.

(We are more concerned about what people feel on the ground because they really have no income. Food packs from the local government help, but these relief items cannot be given for a long, long time because these are just relief. These are not sustainable.)

The global pandemic, which started in Wuhna, China, can "substantially" slow down the Philippine economy, the Asian Development Bank (ADB) earlier said.

"This unprecedented and extraordinary public health emergency brought about by the COVID-19 pandemic will substantially slow down economic growth this year, with most of the contraction in the economy occurring in the second quarter," said ADB Country Director for the Philippines Kelly Bird.

The Bangko Sentral earlier said it was ready to deploy its full monetary and regulatory arsenal to rescue the Philippine economy from the global pandemic.

"At the moment, some central banks have been conducting information exchange on how their jurisdictions currently cope with the situation, which has served as a learning platform for monetary authorities across the globe," the Philippine Central Bank earlier said.

"The BSP is prepared to use the full range of its monetary instruments and to deploy monetary policy and regulatory relief measures as needed in fulfillment of its price and financial stability objectives," it said.