Businesses oppose an extension of the two-week lockdown in Metro Manila, which is supposed to end on August 20.
The Philippine Chamber of Commerce and Industry (PCCI), the biggest business group in the country, said a lockdown is not the only option to stop COVID-19 spread and may even aggravate the health and livelihood crisis as it has in other countries.
“COVID-19 pandemic is a pharmaceutical problem while a lockdown is a militaristic solution. Our economy is disfigured after many protracted lockdowns, yet the spread of COVID continues,” said PCCI acting president Edgardo G. Lacson Friday, in reaction to talk of a five-week enhanced community quarantine (ECQ).
He added that the Philippine economy has fallen into its deepest recession since 1947 largely due to the prolonged and harsh lockdown response.
“Mere mention of lockdown stokes greater fear than the infection from COVID-19. Another five-week lockdown could be the proverbial last straw on the camel’s back. It will wipe out the temporary economic gains we earned in between lockdowns and could stop the momentum of business from moving forward,” he said.
PCCI hopes the planned five-week lockdown is just an overreaction to the rising cases fueled by the Delta variant of COVID-19. Lacson said that the more prudent response should be ramping up the vaccination program to achieve herd immunity and continuing to enforce health protocols as a necessary measure to stop the spread of COVID-19.
Meanwhile, Trade Secretary Ramon Lopez, a member of the Inter-Agency Task Force for the Management of Emerging Infectious Diseases (IATF) said there has been no discussion yet of a five-week ECQ extension at any IATF meeting.
He noted this news is not true but has been circulated online.
“As mentioned, If numbers improve until next week, we should go to a modified ECQ and granular lockdowns. We’re watching the data closely, as long as (there’s) no threat of an uncontrollable surge of Delta (variant),” he added.
A week into the lockdown however, new cases are still rising, hitting four-month highs above 14,000 a day.
President Rodrigo Duterte approved the recommendation of the IATF to downgrade the classification of Laguna, Iloilo City and Cagayan de Oro City from Enhanced Community Quarantine (ECQ) to Modified Enhanced Community Quarantine (MECQ) beginning Aug. 16 until Aug. 31, 2021, Malacanang said.
The National Capital Region (NCR) remains under ECQ until August 20, 2021.
Bataan, on the other hand, is under ECQ until Aug. 22, 2021, Palace spokesman Harry Roque said.
Health Secretary Francisco Duque III said it was too early to discuss a possible extension of the two-week lockdown.
Duque, in an interview on Unang Balita, also stressed the need for the public to observe minimum health standards after daily new COVID-19 cases reach over 12,000 for two consecutive days.
Duque chairs the IATF, the government’s policy-making body in addressing the COVID-19 pandemic.
National Task Force Against COVID-19 deputy chief implementer Vince Dizon said the impact of the ECQ could be determined only after two weeks.
“It’s still too early,” Dizon said in Filipino when asked about a possible ECQ extension.
Dizon also cited the previous pronouncement of the Department of Health that cases could still go up following the lockdown.
“COVID-19 is very unpredictable but what is important is that we act swiftly and coordinate with all sectors of our society,” he said.
Also on Friday, the Palace announced that travelers from India and nine other countries are still barred from entering the Philippines until the end of August.
This, after President Rodrigo Duterte, upon the recommendation of the IATF, extended the travel restrictions imposed on travelers from India, Pakistan, Bangladesh, Sri Lanka, Nepal, United Arab Emirates, Oman, Thailand, Malaysia, and Indonesia.
The extended travel ban came amid the threat posed by the more infectious Delta COVID-19 variant that was first detected in India.
The Philippines has reported a total of 627 cases of Delta coronavirus variant, after logging an additional 177 cases of the highly transmissible Covid-19 variant.
Out of these new cases, 154 are local cases, three are returning overseas Filipinos, and 30 others are still being verified.
Meanwhile, the IATF has also approved the airlines’ request to resume international transit hub operations, Roque said.
“These international transit hub operations shall be limited to airside transfers between Terminals 1 and 2, and within Terminal 3 of the Ninoy Aquino International Airport, and further limited for countries, jurisdictions or territories in the Green List,” Roque said.
Roque said there must be a strict observance of protocols for the controlled movement of passengers and health and safety protocols within the terminals.
Any traveler who may exhibit symptoms should comply with isolation and quarantine protocols which should be for the account of the sponsoring airlines, Roque said.
The Palace said on Friday that at least 14 countries and jurisdictions have been removed from the Philippines’ “green list.”
Antigua and Barbuda, Azerbaijan, Bulgaria, Dominica, Kosovo, Laos, Marshall Islands, Moldova, North Macedonia, Saba (Special Municipality of the Kingdom of Netherlands), Saint Barthelemy, Singapore, Sint Eustatius, and Togo have been removed, based on the revised roster of “green” states and jurisdictions.
On the other hand, Cameroon and Sudan have been added to the updated list.
The countries and jurisdictions included in the new “green” roster are: Albania; American Samoa; Anguilla; Australia; Benin; Bosnia and Herzegovina; Brunei; Burkina Faso; Cameroon; Cayman Islands; Chad; China; Comoros; Cote d’ Ivoire (Ivory Coast); Djibouti; Equatorial Guinea; Falkland Islands; Gabon; Grenada; Hong Kong (Special Administrative Region of China); Hungary; Mali; Federated States of Micronesia; Montserrat (British Overseas Territory); New Caledonia; New Zealand; Niger; Nigeria; Northern Mariana Islands; Palau; Poland; Romania; Saint Pierre and Miquelon; Slovakia; Sudan; and Taiwan
The Department of Health has classified the “green” states and jurisdictions as “low-risk countries or jurisdictions based on disease incidence rate.”
On Friday, the Philippine National Police said more than 40,000 violators of safety protocols were arrested, fined, or warned.
PNP Chief Gen. Guillermo Eleazar said that the figures represent an average of 5,759 violators apprehended per day in different parts of Metro Manila and could get higher if the violators in the four adjoining provinces are included.