MANILA — An infectious diseases specialist cautioned the public against keeping their guard down as the Philippine government is set to reduce quarantine restrictions to revive the economy during the coronavirus pandemic.
Metro Manila, Laguna, and Cebu City will be under a “modified” enhanced community quarantine (ECQ) from May 16 to 31, during which certain businesses will be allowed to reopen with up to half of their operating capacity.
Eight regions classified as “low risk” for COVID-19 infection will also be placed under a “modified” general community quarantine (GCQ) during this period.
Part of the reason for the shift was the lower rate by which the pandemic was now spreading in the country, said Dr. Edsel Maurice Salvaña, a specialist at the University of the Philippines’ National Institutes of Health.
The virus’ reproduction number is close to 1.0 (meaning a patient can infect 1 other person) from a high of up to 4 (up to 4 people can be infected) prior to the implementation of community lockdowns, he said.
“But it can easily surge back,” he said in a Facebook post, citing cases in South Korea and Germany.
“The worst thing that could happen is people treat the loosening of ECQ and GCQ as some sort of coming-out party. We haven’t won yet.”
The virus has sickened 11,876 people in the Philippines, of whom, 790 died.
The number of confirmed cases is among the highest in Southeast Asia where Singapore has more than 25,300 infections, while Indonesia has at least 15,438.
In the Philippines, authorities have been reminding the public to observe strict quarantine measures, such as staying home unless they need to go out and observing physical distancing, despite some changes in lockdown restrictions.
“Please understand that we are not going back to normal for a very long time,” Salvaña said.
A World Health Organization official warned that the new coronavirus “may become just another endemic virus in our communities and… may never go away.”
Experts around the world are pushing hard to develop a vaccine for COVID-19, but the WHO said the process could still take 12 to 18 months.