By Bernadette Tamayo /Manila Times
As the final week of the month-long, Luzon-wide enhanced community quarantine approaches, calls are mounting for an extension because the number of new coronavirus cases and deaths continues to rise.
Several lawmakers and other officials, including Vice President Maria Leonor “Leni” Robredo, favour adding 15 days to the lockdown, which is scheduled to be lifted on April 13.
Others, mainly from the business community, are proposing a calibrated lifting that allows some sectors, particularly manufacturing, to reopen in order to soften the economic blow of the quarantine of the coronavirus disease 2019 (Covid-19) pandemic.
Senator Sherwin Gatchalian, who earlier warned of a looming food shortage in Metro Manila resulting from the lockdown, said he supported an extension of at least two more weeks to give time for mass testing for Covid-19.
In a statement over the weekend, he said food deliveries bound for the capital region were being held up at checkpoints, despite Palace directives to allow them through.
Gatchalian was looking forward for mass testing to start on April 14, adding that lifting the quarantine before then would “undermine the reliability of mass testing results and would only accelerate the spread of the virus.”
He explained that mass testing would “paint a clearer picture of Covid-19 spread in the country and help track down those who are infected so they can at once be isolated or ordered quarantined.” “Without mass testing, we are totally blind.
And when we are blind, the risk is higher of spreading the virus again, thereby wasting the 30-day enhanced community quarantine,” he said.
Earlier, Presidential peace adviser Carlito Galvez J, chief implementer at the National Task Force on Covid-19, said mass testing would be available to persons under monitoring (PUMs), persons under investigation (PUIs) and frontliners.
He added those who test positive needed to be treated and isolated from the rest of the population.
Gatchalian said mass testing must also cover those asymptomatic, who may be unknowingly spreading the disease.
He cited the case of Iceland, where laboratory mass testing revealed that around 50% of cases have no symptoms.
“This is a better approach to flatten the curve and at the same time it would lead to a more efficient use of resources and avoid further strain to the country’s already overwhelmed healthcare system,” he said.
With only a few days of the quarantine left, Gatchalian noted that the number of cases and deaths continues to rise.
The senator added that it was vital for the country to have a sustainable capacity for mass testing, as he urged the Department of Health to fast-track capacity-building and accreditation of testing laboratories.
Gatchalian said mass production for locally produced testing kits developed by the University of the Philippines-National Institutes of Health should boost the country’s testing capacity.
From April 4 to 25, health workers should have been able to perform at least 26,000 tests. As more testing kits are made available, they should be able to do 120,000 tests.
Gatchalian said manufacturer Manila HealthTek Inc makes those kits that were commercially available at P1,300, “cheaper than the ones currently used in hospitals, which can cost by up to P8,000.”
In separate interviews on ANC, leaders of the Makati Business Club (MBC) and the Employers Confederation of the Philippines (ECOP) suggested a calibrated lifting of the quarantine instead of maintaining the lockdown.
Edgar Chua of the MBC said efforts to contain Covid-19 need to be balanced with economic well-being and social order, citing that many Filipinos can only survive by making a daily income.
Sergio Ortiz-Luis of ECOP said mass testing should ease the need for a rigid lockdown.
But reacting to the extension of the quarantine, Rep.
José María Clemente “Joey” said, “It’s not a tradeoff” between “losing a lot of lives and saving some money” and “protecting many lives and recovering economic losses faster.”
“History and economics do not show that extension is a tradeoff between lives and economic growth,” said Salceda, the House ways and means committee chairman and representative of Albay’s second district.
“If anything, the more lives we lose and the more panic this virus creates if it gets worse, the less our chances are of any quick recovery,” he added.
“Our people and our confidence — these are the two greatest resources in any economy, and they are the only irreplaceable ones.”
He said, “The historical evidence says that if you take your time and use the time wisely to build capacity, improve your system of care, and avoid making mistakes such as premature lockdowns, you reduce mortality rate and you enable a recovery.”
Other congressmen also supported an extension, including House Minority Leader Bienvenido “Benny” Abante Jr of Manila and Rep. Edcel Lagman of Albay.
NEED TO EXPLAIN
Vice President Robredo also backed calls for an extension, saying it would be better to delay the lifting of the quarantine until the curve of Covid-19 cases and deaths flatten.
In another ANC interview, she added that clear messaging was also important.
If people do not understand the reasons for the extension, people would resist it, she explained. “We have seen in the past few days, there are some violations. We have some resistance — not massive, but some resistance from our fellowmen,” she added.
She added the immediate release of the social amelioration package was also important to prevent people from going out to seek livelihood.
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