After the Philippines' health professionals warned the nation was losing its battle against the coronavirus pandemic, President Rodrigo Duterte decided to revert Metro Manila and nearby provinces to a stricter form of quarantine.
Duterte approved a Cabinet recommendation to again place Metro Manila, Laguna, Cavite, Rizal, and Bulacan under modified enhanced community quarantine (MECQ) from August 4 to 18.
Presidential Spokesperson Harry Roque confirmed this in a text message to reporters late Sunday night, August 2.
The move follows a tidal wave of support for over 80 medical societies who strongly urged the Duterte administration to review its current response to the outbreak.
The groups, representing some 80,000 doctors and a million nurses, had warned on Saturday, August 1, that the country’s health system is on the brink of collapse.
“Healthcare workers are united in sounding off a distress signal to the nation – our healthcare system has been overwhelmed…. We are waging a losing battle against COVID-19," they said in a letter to Duterte.
While government officials earlier appeared inclined to reject the frontliners' plea, Malacañang later held two meetings over the weekend to discuss the matter.
On Sunday, Duterte met with key Cabinet members, including Executive Secretary Salvador Medialdea, Health Secretary Francisco Duque III, Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana, Interior Secretary Eduardo Año, National Task Force Chief Implementer Carlito Galvez Jr, treatment czar Leopoldo Vega, and Roque.
Duque said the Cabinet agreed on the following proposed measures to aid medical workers:
1. Hire additional workers - Have healthcare worker reserves, craft agreement with private hospitals until December 2020 to deploy health workers to hospitals with fast-rising occupancy rates
2. Additional benefits - P10,000 risk allowance in private sector, free life insurance in proposed Bayanihan 2, free accommodation and transportation, free and frequent testing for healthcare workers in expanded testing strategy
3. Work and quarantine passes to reduce number of people going out
4. Localized lockdown strategy - Enhanced Oplan Kalinga and localized lockdowns, implement “coordinated operations to beat the epidemic”
5. Strengthen street enforcement of public health standards like wearing masks, distribute 20 million masks for the poor
6. Use RT-PCR tests as gold standard to detect COVID-19 cases
In calling for a two-week "timeout," health workers acknowledged the complex decision of closing the economy, but said the crisis “necessitates putting prime importance on effective solutions addressing the health problems at hand.”
“The health sector cannot hold the line for much longer. Our healthcare workers should not bear the burden of deciding who lives and who dies. If the health system collapses, it is ultimately our poor who are most compromised,” they said.
In the past few weeks, several hospitals in Metro Manila declared full capacity as cases continued increase. Data from health officials also showed critical care facilities in the capital region breaching the 70% critical “danger” threshold set by the government.
Critics have said the government’s slow response to the pandemic squandered one of the world's longest and strictest lockdowns.
For health workers, the two-week “timeout” should be used to talk to experts and review pandemic response strategies with a sense of urgency.
They said the government must address these issues: