By Kyle Aristophere T. Atienza and Vann Marlo M. Villegas, Reporters
PHILIPPINE President Rodrigo R. Duterte on Sunday eased the lockdown in Manila, the capital and nearby cities and provinces while urging local governments to boost their response to the coronavirus pandemic.
Metro Manila would be under a modified enhanced community quarantine from April 12 to 30, Presidential Spokesperson Herminio “Harry” L. Roque, Jr. told an online news briefing on Sunday, a day before a two-week strict lockdown was to expire.
The same applies to the provinces of Bulacan, Rizal, Laguna and Cavite, which were also locked down amid a fresh surge in COVID-19 infections.
Santiago City, Isabela, Quirino province and Abra in northern Philippines would also be placed under the modified enhanced lockdown, Mr. Roque said.
“The failure of the government to make a timely announcement on this week’s quarantine qualification speaks volumes of the current quality of Malacanang’s response to the crisis,” InfraWatch PH convenor Terry L. Ridon said in a Facebook Messenger chat.
“If the government makes a belated announcement today, sufficient time should be afforded to all to adjust to a new classification,” the former congressman said hours before the announcement.
The Department of Health (DoH) reported 11,681 coronavirus infections on Sunday, bringing the total to 864,868. The death toll rose by 201 to 14,945, while recoveries increased by 55,204 to 703,404, it said in a bulletin.
There were 146,519 active cases, 96.8% of which were mild, 1.7% did not show symptoms, 0.5% were critical, 0.6% were severe and 0.34% were moderate.
Mr. Roque, who was hospitalized at the weekend after testing positive for the virus for the second time, said beds and health staff should be adequate, while local governments should ensure a well-coordinated triage and referral system for coronavirus patients.
Hospitals should be decongested through temporary treatment and monitoring facilities “provided there is proof of capacity to do adequate quarantine/isolation.”
“Local government units in the National Capital Region Plus are likewise enjoined to set up their respective local tele-health triaging systems equipped with sufficient medical personnel available to provide immediate medical and patient referral advice,” Mr. Roque said in a separate statement.
The Health, Public Works and Education departments as well as the Metro Manila Development Authority should work together to increase bed capacity for coronavirus patients in isolation, quarantine and health facilities, he said.
He added that the Labor and Trade departments had been ordered to decide on the number of workers who may undertake alternative work arrangements.
The Philippines has been experiencing a fresh surge in infections, just like many countries in the world, amid a slow vaccination program that started last month. The government was set to take delivery of 500,000 CoronaVac doses from China on Sunday, according to an inter-agency task force.
Based on the order issued by the task force on Sunday, all barred establishments and activities during the two-week strict lockdown may now operate at 50% capacity.
Entertainment venues, recreational hubs, personal care services, casinos and other nonessential establishments were still barred from operating.
Public vehicles, ships, rail and air transportation may operate in accordance with the rules issued by the Transportation department.
Religious gatherings will be allowed up to 10% of the venue capacity. Local governments may increase the capacity to 30%.
Gatherings outside residences will remain banned, except for essential activities related to health and government services and authorized humanitarian programs.
Mr. Duterte canceled his weekly address last week given the risk of infection, the palace has said.
Michael Henry Ll. Yusingco, a research fellow at the Ateneo De Manila University Policy Center, said it was normal for people to get anxious about the President’s prolonged absence from public view
“Questions about who is exercising presidential control are certainly warranted under the circumstances,” he said in an e-mail.
“Regardless of the President’s health, the government should still have been able to make a timely decision yesterday, as the entire economy and communities are dependent on the government’s next steps,” Mr. Ridon said.
The belated announcement causes unnecessary delays in manpower planning, Asian Institute of Management economist John Paolo R. Rivera said in a Viber message.
“The government needs to be sharper and clear in its policies especially during a potential transition from an enhanced community quarantine to another form of quarantine,” Ruben Carlo O. Asuncion, chief economist at UnionBank of the Philippines, Inc. said in a Viber message.
Even if companies try to foresee possible situations “the government should be many steps ahead,” he added.
The Health department on April 2 reported the highest daily tally at 15,310 cases since the pandemic started last year.
The agency on Sunday said 22 duplicates had been removed from the tally and 13 recovered cases were reclassified as deaths. Six laboratories failed to submit data on April 10.
About 10.1 million Filipinos have been tested for the coronavirus as of April 9, according to DoH’s tracker website.
The coronavirus has sickened about 136.1 million and killed 2.9 million people worldwide, according to the Worldometers website, citing various sources including data from the World Health Organization.
About 109.5 million people have recovered, it said.
The agency on Saturday reported 363 new infections with the more contagious variants first detected in the United Kingdom, South Africa and Brazil.
In a statement, DoH said it had detected 192 new infections with the variant first detected from South Africa, bringing the total to 344.
A total of 170 new cases were detected to have been infected with the variant first found in the United Kingdom, raising the total to 392.
A person from the Soccsksargen region was infected with the variant from Brazil, it said, bringing the total to two.
The Health department also said 19 people had been infected with the variant first detected in the Philippines, bringing the total to 123.