Placing the entire nation under the least restrictive quarantine level should not be a cause for concern. The looser restrictions aim to encourage more people to go out and participate in increased economic activities. The laxer conditions do not, in any way, call for a lowering of one’s guard or the abandonment of health protocols to stop the spread of Covid-19.
I am in total agreement with the recommendations of the National Economic and Development Authority to President Duterte to put the whole Philippines under modified general community quarantine (MGCQ) starting March 1 to speed up the opening of the economy.
It is the right time to further reopen the economy. The Philippines has one of the longest and strictest Covid-19 lockdowns in the world. The rigid restrictions have led to a 9.5-percent contraction in the economy, the steepest in Asia. I am confident that we can control the virus spread and open the economy at the same time.
The Neda specifically favors relaxing the age restrictions on people allowed to go out of their homes, expansion of public transportation operations from 50 percent to 75 percent and allowing more provincial buses to operate, and the conduct of pilot face-to-face classes in areas with established low coronavirus infection risk. It also recommended expanding the age groups allowed to leave their homes, from the current 15 to 65 to 5 to 70.
Many of our lawmakers generally agree with the recommendations. I am glad that some of our senators are now more open to the idea of less rigid quarantine restrictions in order to give the economy a break. They believe in the merits of Neda’s recommendations as long as the regular health protocols, such as wearing of masks and social distancing, are strictly observed.
Nine Metro Manila mayors, meanwhile, voted last week in favor of putting the National Capital Region under a modified general community quarantine in March, against the eight who wanted to retain the stricter GCQ. The shift in the thinking of Metro Manila mayors is significant. Our local executives in the capital region are becoming more sensitive to the plight of their constituents, who are either aching to go back to work or to find one if they have lost their previous jobs.
Navotas Mayor Toby Tiangco has assured the vote on the shift to MGCQ is the official position of the Metro Manila Council that will be submitted to the Inter-Agency Task Force for the Management of Emerging Infectious Diseases (IATF).
The shift to MGCQ, however, does not mean the Philippines is close to defeating Covid-19. We are still far from achieving victory until the vaccines arrive and the country establishes herd immunity. For one, the World Health Organization is still cautious on its assessment of the Philippines. An overall easing of quarantine restrictions, according to the health body, might result in an upsurge in cases amid the delay in the vaccination rollout and the presence of new Covid variants.
WHO still recognizes the high level of transmission in the Philippines, which is being complicated by new virus strains. It still favors some restrictions. But WHO country representative Rabindra Abeyasinghe says it does not mean “we cannot loosen up key areas so the economy will benefit, but that has to be done in a very targeted manner.”
Metro Manila mayors, thus, should be proactive in reopening the economy. They have a key role in reviving our economy. They can implement localized lockdowns at the barangay level in case of a virus spike to curb the infection spread. Isolated lockdowns have proven more effective in the past than general area confinement.
Metro Manila mayors will be the catalyst in the reopening of the economy. They can balance economic reopening with health safeguards. The national government has taken the lead in controlling the pandemic and it is up to local government executives to preserve the early gains we achieved in curbing the spread of the disease.
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