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Palace warns Metro Manila to be on lockdown again if coronavirus cases rise

MANILA, Philippines – Lamenting the sight of crowded malls and jam-packed roads as the capital region moved to a modified enhanced community quarantine, Malcañang warned the public it could impose strict lockdown measures once more should coronavirus cases increase. 

Presidential Spokesperson Harry Roque said this on Monday, May 18, adding that there is a limited number of beds to care for patients and that the health system would not be able to cope with a sharp increase in cases.  

"Kung lahat tayo ay lumabas nang ganyan kadami at hindi mag-o-observe ng social distancing, unang una, babalik po tayo sa ECQ dahil sinabi ko naman po, hindi na nakataga sa bato 'yan na tayo ay nasa MECQ na," Roque said in a briefing. 

"Pero pag dumami pa rin at hindi tayo kakayanan magbigay ng critical care doon sa mga magkakasakit, lalo tayong balik sa kulungan, ECQ lahat uli," he added. 

(If everyone goes out in huge numbers and fails to observe social distancing, then first and foremost, we will return to ECQ [enhanced community quarantine] because as I’ve said before, being under MECQ is not cast in stone. If cases increase and we are not able to give critical care to those who are sick, then all the more we will return to that prison, everyone will be under ECQ again.) 

Since May 16, Metro Manila, Laguna, Bataan, Angeles City, Bulacan, Nueva Ecija, Pampanga, and Zambales were placed under modified enhanced community quarantine, while the rest of the country was placed under a general community quarantine. 

The slight restriction of quarantine measures after two months of being on lockdown saw Filipinos flock to malls and other areas in droves, prompting concern over a deadly increase in cases that could cripple the country’s health care system.

Sanctions to follow

Roque likewise warned malls and other commercial establishments allowed to operate under MECQ and GCQ, to make sure physical distancing and crowd control measures are in place for customers. Or they risk facing closure.  

Police Lieutenant General Guillermo Eleazar, commander of Joint Task Force (JTF) COVID Shield, earlier warned that Interior Secretary Eduardo Año had instructed cops to "not only facilitate the closure of these malls but...also initiate the filing of appropriate charges against the management."

Roque reminded employers to also ensure safety measures are in place for workers, including the provision of shuttles or accommodations, to ensure they get to work safely. 

Not a mistake? Malacañang denied notions it erred in deciding to ease restrictions in the capital region, where majority of coronavirus cases are concentrated.  

Roque said the government’s coronavirus task force eased restrictions to help stimulate the economy and expected the public to gradually venture outside and observe restrictions, instead of going out all at once as seen in the first days of the MECQ. 

He said the government has the capacity, as of the moment, to provide critical care for patients and that it also assumed the public would fully cooperate. 

"Kailangan natin ng kabuhayan kaya natin binuksan ang ekonomiya, hindi po 'yan dahilan para mag-malling,” Roque said. (We opened the economy because people need to make a living but this is not a reason to go malling.) 

Meanwhile, as the government eased restrictions in most parts of the country, it has yet to increase its capacity to test more people for the coronavirus.  

As of Sunday, the Philippines has recorded 12,513 coronavirus cases, with 824 deaths and 2,635 recoveries. – Rappler.com

Sofia Tomacruz

Sofia Tomacruz covers foreign affairs, the overseas Filipino workers, and elections. She also writes stories on the treatment of women and children. Follow her on Twitter @sofiatomacruz. Email her at sofia.tomacruz@rappler.com.

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