THE LIFTING of the enhanced community quarantine (ECQ) in Luzon in mid-April would be gradual, Trade Secretary Ramon M. Lopez said on Wednesday.

In a Zoom conference with the Philippine Franchise Association, Mr. Lopez said he does not want to preempt the possible lifting of the Luzon-wide lockdown, which is still up for discussion.

“What might happen is still a gradual lifting,” he said, describing a norm of frequent health checks, temperature scanning, and social distancing.

Mr. Lopez also mentioned the possibility of slowly resuming manufacturing and mall operations.

“Slowly we will be, maybe by sector, we will be opening up more business establishments, even malls may be opened up following certain policies,” he said.

He said many businesses of the franchise association may also open up with the application of social distancing measures.

“I would say manufacturing in general can be lifted. That’s a possible scenario,” he said. “Ang hindi lang namin ine-expect siguro mag-open agad (what we don’t expect will open up right away) will be those places with mass congregations — the likes of the theaters, concerts.”

The month-long ECQ in Luzon, which was implemented to slow the spread of the coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19), is scheduled to end on April 12.

Caloocan City Rep. Edgar Erice on Wednesday said the ECQ should be extended for another 30 days as the country continues to grapple with the spread of the virus.

The Inter-Agency Task Force for the Management of Emerging Infectious Diseases (IATF) has not yet made an announcement on whether the ECQ would be extended, lifted, or expanded to other areas.

Mr. Lopez said the parameters for lifting the ECQ will still be finalized, which will “heavily depend” on the health situation in the country.

“To the extent that the health situation, the COVID-19 situation, is pretty much under control — in effect, we can say we have flattened the curve and that we can focus on isolated cases, then we can safely say that generally there might be a lifting, but that lifting… meron pa rin

’yang gradual lifting. Di pa rin all businesses (that will still be a gradual lifting. It still won’t be all businesses),” he said.

Several business leaders including Jaime Zobel de Ayala and Lance Y. Gokongwei, after meeting with the IATF in the weekend, proposed a modified community quarantine that removes checkpoints and resumes manufacturing operations.

The Department of Health reported 227 new coronavirus cases and 8 deaths, bringing the total to 2,311 with 96 deaths.

Meanwhile, DTI in a memorandum on Tuesday allowed additional businesses in the food and essential products supply chain to operate during the ECQ.

The department said the production, manufacturing, and distribution of raw and processed materials, packaging and other inputs for food, essential products, medicine, and medical products are now allowed.

These establishments, which are encouraged to implement social distancing and provide accommodations, may operate with up to 50% of their work force, unless DTI approves temporary additional work force.

Facilities producing critical medical devices such as personal protective equipment and surgical masks may operate at full capacity. — Jenina P. Ibañez