Duterte's lockdown decision hinges on PH capacity to treat patients

MANILA, Philippines  – President Rodrigo Duterte's decision on whether to lift, ease, or extend the Luzon lockdown or enhanced community quarantine (ECQ) will be based on the health sector's capacity to treat coronavirus patients.

"Kung magkakaroon ng relaxation o lifting ng ECQ dapat sapat ang kakayahan ng ating health sector na magbigay ng medical attention sa lahat ng puwedeng magkasakit ng COVID-19 (If there will be a relaxation or lifting of ECQ, our health sector should have enough capability to give medical attention to all those who may contract COVID-19),"  Presidential Spokesperson Harry Roque said in a briefing on Thursday, April 23.

The Luzon lockdown will expire on April 30, barring new adjustments. (READLuzon-wide lockdown after April 30 not needed, health experts tell Duterte)

"Gustuhin man niyang i–lift ang ECQ kung talagang ang datos naman, ang siyensya naman ay nagsasabing kapag nilift ay hindi tayo pupuwedeng mabigyan ng serbisyo ng ating health sector ay mapipilitan po talaga ang Presidente na gumawa ng mahirap pero tamang desisyon na ipagpatuloy ang ECQ," Roque added.

(Even if he wants to lift the ECQ, if data and science say that if lifted, the health sector would not be able to provide ample service, then our President would be forced to make the difficult but right decision to extend ECQ.)

Duterte will meet the Inter Agency Task Force (IATF) on the coroanvirus pandemic at 6 pm on Thursday, to thresh out the earlier submitted recommendations.

Senator Bong Go, the President's former aide, earlier said that Duterte will decide Thursday. Roque said  he "has no reason to doubt" this.

Roque said Duterte would likely be "conservative" with his decision.

"Siguro po iko-quote ko na lang si Ramon Ang: Ang pera puwedeng kitain; ang buhay hindi na po puwedeng maibalik kung wala na.... Naniniwala naman po ako na ang desisyon niya ay magiging base sa pinaka-importanteng karapatan sa lahat, ang karapatang mabuhay," said Roque.

(I will just quote Ramon Ang: Money can be earned but life once lost cannot be recovered. I believe that the President's decision will be based on the most important right, the right to live.)

Geographical risks

Roque said Duterte now has a framework of decision tools, some using indicators such as geographical risks, wherein low risks would correspond to a lifting of  the lockdown, moderate risk to an easing of the lockdown, and high risk to a lockdown extension.

Citing a study from the University of the Philippines (UP), Roque said Metro Manila, Calabarzon, portions of Bulacan, Cebu City, and Davao City are still considered to be geographical risks.

"I cannot specify the recommendations of the IATF. All I can confirm is the UP study identifying these areas, all the IATF gave me was the framework that they suggested the President should use," said Roque.

Roque said part of the recommendation is to partially open mass transportation by 30% for areas where the lockdown may be eased or lifted.

"Inaasahan nila na hindi po mapupuno ang transportation. Kinakailangan every other seat kung ipapatupad ng Presidente ang rekomendasyong ito. It will be a new norm na po. Wala na po kayong katabi sa bus, wala nang tayuan, pati sa pilahan kailangan may social distancing," said Roque.

(They anticipate that transportation would not be filled to capacity. It will be filled every other seat situation if ever the President implements this recommendation. This will be a new norm. You will no longer have a seatmate at the bus, no more standing, and there should be social distancing even in the queues.)

Roque said it appeared that coronavirus cases were beginning to plateau, but that this was not yet considered flattening the curve.

Earlier this week, the UP COVID-19 Pandemic Response Team released a report, “Estimating Local Healthcare Capacity to Deal with COVID-19 Case Surge: Analysis and Recommendations,” where it assessed that the lockdown helped slow down the rate of coronavirus infections in the country, and that the health care system should be prepared for a "surge" in cases once the lockdown is lifted.

The UP experts estimated that over 50,000 people may require hospitalization at the peak of the coronavirus pandemic in the country, a number that would overwhelm the local health care system if the necessary preparations are not made.

As of Wednesday, April 22,  the Philippines has recorded 6,710 coronavirus cases, with 111 new cases on Wednesday.

The death toll went up to 446 while total recoveries were at 693. – Rappler.com

Lian Buan

Lian Buan covers justice and corruption for Rappler. She is interested in decisions, pleadings, audits, contracts, and other documents that establish a trail. If you have leads, email lian.buan@rappler.com or tweet @lianbuan.

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