MANILA - The National Capital Region cannot remain on lockdown forever, the Department of Health said Wednesday as it assured the public that safeguards are in place to prevent COVID-19 transmission.
Virus epicenter Metro Manila and the nearby provinces of Bulacan, Laguna, Cavite, and Rizal eased into general community quarantine Wednesday after a 2-week modified lockdown to give healthworkers a "breather."
Community quarantine is not the only intervention to fight COVID-19, said Health Undersecretary Maria Rosario Vergeire, citing experts.
"Even experts are saying we cannot remain in lockdown forever. Our economic managers also are advising based on the studies we have done that there are a lot of people who are going to go hungry already if we continue doing these lockdowns and ECQs (enhanced community quarantine)," she told ANC.
"Certain diseases aside from COVID-19 will become evident in the next few months if we continue to have this ECQ. That’s why government has to balance between health and the economy because economy also has health impacts."
Among these safeguards are granular or localized lockdowns and stricter enforcement of minimum health standards, Vergeire said.
A government task force against the virus also conducted house-to-house symptom checking to identify, isolate, and test virus patients or possible carriers.
"We were not aiming to finish, we were just priming the system and to show the local government that this can work. This was the objective. We did not see that as a goal we will finish in 2 weeks," Vergeire said.
"We were able to start it with other localities, identifying close contacts, symptomatics and referring them to facilities."
The task force also estimated that tracing up to 10 or 20 close contacts of virus patients in Metro Manila is enough versus the up to 37 close contacts recommended by Baguio Mayor Benjamin Magalong due to constraint in resources, according to Vergeire.
Local governments were averaging 3 to 4 close contacts based on past assessments, Vergeire said.
"If we increase it to 10 or maybe 20, we will be able to have this appropriate number so that we can somehow contain the transmission," she said.
"In this first 2 weeks we had MECQ we tried 1:10 so that resources would be sufficient. In the next weeks, we are looking at increasing this as well."
Government has also begun the distribution of face masks to poor families through the Office of Civil Defense, Vergeire said.
These are washable triple-layer cloth face masks, government special adviser Dr. Ted Herbosa earlier said.
The Philippines as of Tuesday reported 169,213 COVID-19 cases, with 112,861 recoveries and 2,687 deaths.