A LUZON-wide lockdown probably won’t be lifted if coronavirus infections continue to soar, the government’s chief enforcer of policies against the pandemic said on Tuesday night.
The Philippines “cannot rush into normalcy,” Carlito G. Galvez, Jr. told a news briefing, noting that cases could enter a “second wave” similar to what happened in Singapore if the lockdown was lifted sooner.
President Rodrigo R. Duterte locked down the entire Luzon island on March 17, suspending work, classes and public transportation to contain the outbreak. The so-called enhanced community quarantine was supposed to end on April 13 but he extended it by two more weeks until April 30.
Mr. Duterte said people should stay home and go out only to buy food and other basic goods.
“We need to continue and heighten the enforcement of the enhanced community quarantine,” Mr. Galvez said in Filipino. “While doing this, it’s better if we also conduct mass testing to locate, test, isolate and cure patients.”
Presidential spokesman Harry L. Roque told Radyo Pilipinas on Wednesday Mr. Duterte was still studying his options, adding that totally lifting the lockdown was out of the question.
The government was considering limiting the lockdown to certain areas as recommended by health experts to Mr. Duterte on Monday, he said.
“The enhanced community quarantine may be enforced in the entire province, city or at the village level,” Mr. Roque said in Filipino. “That is one of the options the President is considering.”
Senator Christopher Lawrence T. Go, Mr. Duterte’s close friend and former aide has said the President would probably announce his decision on Thursday.
Also yesterday, the National Economic and Development Authority (NEDA) said a task force made up of Cabinet secretaries against COVID-19 should base its lockdown recommendations on scientific evidence.
“NEDA is recommending to make the decision based on scientific evidence on the risk of transmission of the virus if we modify or lift the enhanced community quarantine,” Acting Secretary Karl Kendrick T. Chua said in a Viber message.
Business groups have urged government to do a calibrated reopening of the economy after April 30 and allow businesses to partially operate again.
“What people want to see is hopefully for the economy to start resuming in stages for them to able to start working,” British Chamber of Commerce Philippines Executive Director Chris Nelson told the ABS-CBN News Channel yesterday.
”Companies want to be able to get their cash flow going because liquidity is important,” he said.
Mr. Chua said at a briefing it would probably be safe for people to go back to work by June or July, assuming the government can test at least 5,000 people daily.
Also yesterday, Senate President Vicente C. Sotto III called for a modified lockdown.
“We need to extend the lockdown but with modifications,” he told DZMM radio.
Mr. Sotto said areas with zero or few cases may be allowed to lift the lockdown provided social distancing measures are maintained. Places hit hard by the virus such as Metro Manila should still be locked down, he added.
Local governments may relax public transportation restrictions, Mr. Sotto said. Tricycles may be allowed to operate again but only with one passenger, he added.
Mr. Sotto on Monday attended a meeting where health experts explained lockdown options to Mr. Duterte.
Mr. Sotto said health experts had warned of a spike in infections once the lockdown is lifted.
Meanwhile, University of the Philippines professors said lifting the lockdown should be done gradually and selectively.
This first approach considers resuming mobility within the village, then within cities and municipalities, and then between cities, the academic experts said in a research paper published on April 21.
The second approach seeks to revive economic activity beginning with highly important sectors to sustain the economy in the next 18 months, they added. — Gillian M. Cortez, Charmaine A. Tadalan and Beatrice M. Laforga