MANILA, Philippines — Quarantine restrictions in Metro Manila could be relaxed by November if the current downward trend in COVID-19 cases continues and residents consistently follow health measures, according to Metro Manila Council Chair Edwin Olivarez.
Metro Manila, composed of 16 cities and one municipality, remains under general community quarantine (GCQ) until the end of October. It has the highest number of COVID-19 cases and has been under some form of quarantine since mid-March to contain the spread of the new coronavirus.
Olivarez, who is also mayor of Parañaque City, on Wednesday noted that the number of cases had been going down and the recovery rate was more than 90 percent in some parts of the metropolis. He gave no figures showing the decline in the number of infections and recoveries.
If this continues and people follow health rules, Metro Manila may be placed under the more relaxed modified GCQ by November if the President allows it, he said.
“Our strategy is to continue to implement health protocols. Our [local governments] continue to implement the wearing of face shields and face masks, social distancing and the improvement of critical care,” he said in a news briefing.
Health Undersecretary Maria Rosario Vergeire on Monday said the average number of new cases per week nationwide had gone down to less than half—from 3,000 to 1,000-1,200. No average weekly figures for Metro Manila were immediately available from the health department.
Local officials are working to improve hospitals and services so that medical workers would not be overwhelmed, Olivarez said.
But in the meantime, Metro Manila needs to remain under general community quarantine despite the downward trend in cases, Olivarez said.
“Local government[s] are concerned that if we relax restrictions or if we increase the operational capacity of businesses, of public utility vehicles, we might have a spike in cases. So the Metro Manila Council thinks we need another 30 days for GCQ,” he said.
The lockdown has shrunk the economy and has led to a rise in hunger and joblessness. Officials and business leaders are trying to find ways to revive commerce without compromising people’s health.
Olivarez said he and the other mayors would be discussing the possibility of lifting the curfew in Metro Manila in their next meeting “so that we could reopen the economy.”
Currently, Metro Manila has a curfew of 10 p.m. to 5 a.m. But cities have also allowed food delivery services to operate for 24 hours.
Olivarez was not receptive to the proposal of the Department of Trade and Industry to allow businesses currently operating at 50-percent capacity to fully reopen even under GCQ. He explained that the number of people allowed in commercial areas and establishments was still controlled in towns and cities.
He also defended the decision of the national government to appoint Cabinet members as overseers of cities and provinces with a high number of COVID-19 cases. That move by the administration has been criticized as micromanagement of local governments by Malacañang.
But the Parañaque mayor said the appointment of Cabinet members was a big help as they served as bridges to the national government, making coordination easier.
“If the local government needs something, there is a focal person who acts as a big brother to us to assist us with our needs,” he said.
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