President Rodrigo Duterte has ordered the government’s pandemic policy task force to consider an urgent plea from the country’s medical community to enforce a two-week lockdown on the capital and its surrounding provinces amid an unprecedented surge in the country’s COVID-19 cases.
Duterte “has heard the concerns of the medical community and the Chief Executive has directed the Inter-Agency Task Force for Emerging Infectious Diseases (IATF) to act on these concerns immediately,” Presidential Spokesperson Harry Roque said in a statement on Saturday afternoon, August 1.
“The Palace considers our skilled, tireless and dedicated healthcare workers as important frontliners in the battle against COVID-19. We are grateful for their immense contributions to heal our people and our nation during these difficult times. Your voices have been heard. We cannot afford to let down our modern heroes. This is our commitment,” Roque added.
Roque issued this statement several hours after his televised daily briefing in which he said the strict lockdown of Metro Manila months ago had “served its purpose,” and the government was looking to “intensify other strategies” such as “localized lockdowns” of smaller areas with high COVID-19 incidence.
In a separate statement, Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana, who heads the government’s policy implementation task force on the pandemic, said the IATF will discuss the medical community’s suggestion on Monday, August 3.
Meanwhile, Roque said in a message to media Saturday evening: "Executive Secretary Salvador Medialdea convened a meeting tonight, August 1, with key members of the Cabinet."
He said: "Recommendations from the aforesaid meeting will be also be submitted tonight for the President's review."
Earlier on Saturday, the Philippine College of Physicians and more than 80 other medical groups sent Duterte a letter urging him to impose enhanced community quarantine (ECQ) in Metro Manila, Calabarzon, Central Luzon, and Mimaropa for two weeks. The groups said the country needs to “come up with a consolidated plan” because it is in a “losing battle against COVID-19.”
The groups asked that the ECQ be enforced from August 1 to 15, as healthcare frontliners “cannot hold the line for much longer.” They called on the government for urgent action on problems in the following areas:
Vice President Leni Robredo urged the Duterte administration to heed the medical community’s “distress call.” She backed their plea for the government to “recalibrate, re-strategize, and redirect” its policies, saying current strategies and measures “are not working.”
On Saturday, the Department of Health reported 4,963 new confirmed coronavirus cases, bringing the total to 98,232. It was the 3rd straight day the country posted record single-day upsurges in virus cases.
Senator Panfilo Lacson on Saturday said the medical community’s request for a two-week lockdown in Mega Manila is “valid,” and Malacañang should “seriously consider” it.
“Putting human lives above all considerations is a no-brainer, given the choice,” Lacson said in a media statement.
To stave off another lockdown’s adverse impact on the economy, Lacson said the government can make adjustments to its emergency subsidy program – provide the most basic needs of society’s neediest members.
“What is important is to prevent an obvious pattern of upsurge in the daily coronavirus infection,” Lacson said.
He noted the importance of data management, as the DOH’s recent application of a different protocol on classifying recovered mild and asymptomatic cases resulted in a dramatic single-day increase in the number of recoveries, leaving the public and even some officials incredulous.
Senator Richard Gordon, who heads the Philippine Red Cross, said the country’s doctors, nurses medical technologists, and other frontliners are already exhausted.
“Kailangan nila ng pahinga. We also need to listen to their side and their suggestions. Maaari namang pag-aralan muna nang maigi ang mga mungkahi nila,” Gordon said in a tweet.
(They need rest…. Their suggestion should perhaps be given thorough consideration first.)
This, as Malacañang initially sounded dismissive of the suggestion, citing what would be another lockdown’s adverse economic impact.
“The health of the nation, including [the frontliners’], is also important,” Gordon added.
“The chorus of our medical frontliners calling for a 'timeout' for everyone to regroup and strategize highlights the disconnect between what the DOH is reporting and what our health workers are experiencing firsthand,” said Senator Joel Villanueva in a tweet.
Villanueva earlier questioned the DOH’s reporting of COVID-19 cases, saying people were "being fooled” by the agency’s erratic figures.
Meanwhile, Senator Cynthia Villar said she disagrees with another shutdown of the economy. If people don’t die of COVID-19, they might end up starving to death if the government enforces another lockdown.
“Kaya nga ako namimigay ng tarp na nagpapaalala sa mga tao ng protocols, namimigay din ng mask (That's why I’ve been giving out tarps reminding people about protocols, giving out masks, too). I guess we have to live with this and go on with our lives,” Villar said in an interview with DWIZ radio on Saturday.
Villar called on the DOH and other government agencies to do a better job at addressing the health crisis.
As for the healthcare frontliners, she said to work hard is their lot during the pandemic.
“May time in our lives na ikaw talaga ang mapapagod. Iba-iba naman ang kalamidad. So itong kalamidad na ito, ang mapapagod dito ang health frontliners natin. Iba-iba 'yan, but I guess we need to work hard,” Villar said.
(There are times in our lives when it’s our turn to get tired. There are different calamities. So in this calamity, it’s the health frontliners who will get tired. At times it’s different, but I guess we need to work hard.) – Rappler.com
JC Gotinga often reports about the West Philippine Sea, the communist insurgency, and terrorism as he covers national defense and security for Rappler. He enjoys telling stories about his hometown, Pasig City. JC has worked with Al Jazeera, CNN Philippines, News5, and CBN Asia.