PRESIDENT Rodrigo R. Duterte was set to meet with Cabinet officials later on Sunday to discuss the appeal of health workers to put Metro Manila back under a strict lockdown as coronavirus infections topped 100,000.

“The President will meet today with key Cabinet members to discuss yesterday’s letter from the frontliners,” his spokesman Harry L. Roque said in a statement on Sunday.

Health workers overwhelmed by COVID-19 (coronavirus disease 2019) patients needing hospital care called on the government at the weekend to put the capital region under an enhanced community quarantine for two weeks.

Mr. Roque on Saturday evening said palace officials had met with representatives of at least three medical professional groups to discuss their recommendations. These were the Philippine Medical Association, Philippine Nurses Association and Philippine Association of Medical Technologists.

He also said the strict lockdown in Metro Manila had served its purpose, and the government must intensify other strategies.

Executive Secretary Salvador C. Medialdea led the meeting, which was also attended by members of an inter-agency task force against the coronavirus.

The Philippine College of Physicians on Saturday urged Mr. Duterte to put Manila and nearby cities and provinces under a strict lockdown after the President kept the more relaxed general community quarantine for the region.

These areas include Metro Manila, Central Luzon, Calabarzon (Cavite, Laguna, Batangas, Rizal and Quezon), and Mimaropa (Mindoro, Marinduque, Romblon and Palawan).

Metro Manila and the Calabarzon region account for about two-thirds of the country’s economic output.

The doctors said the local healthcare system had been overwhelmed by the COVID-19 crisis, leaving frontliners burned out.

They also said health frontliners were getting ill from the load. About 80 medical societies were said to have supported the call for a strict lockdown.

Mr. Duterte ordered the inter-agency task force at the weekend to act on the recommendations.

Meanwhile, the Department of Health (DoH) said it would create a rapid response team of trained medical workers to ease the healthcare overload, seeking assistance from health workers in the provinces and those returning from overseas.

“It is an understatement to say that your brethren in the National Capital Region need your help,” it said in a statement.

DoH said it would enforce a coordinated response against the coronavirus pandemic, including engaging communities to promote prevention, house-to-house symptom checks to look for active cases and swab testing of people showing symptoms. 

A road map and technical assistance will be provided to local governments for effective contact tracing, the agency said, adding that about 50,000 more contact tracers should be hired.

The Health department also said that it fully supports efforts by the transportation sector to promote safe biking.

DoH and the Labor department will also support contact tracing in industries where there has been clustering of cases, the agency said. It will also coordinate with the Trade and Labor departments in updating the rules on safe workplaces.

“We appeal to our citizens and their patriotism and sense of duty to help ensure that our health system and healthcare frontliners are not overwhelmed,” it said. — Gillian M. Cortez and Vann Marlo M. Villegas