Philippines May Ease COVID-19 Quarantine Rules by March

Basilio Sepe and Luis Liwanag
Manila
2021-02-19
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Philippines May Ease COVID-19 Quarantine Rules by March People wear masks and face shields as they queue to board public buses and jeepneys during a community quarantine in Manila, Feb. 2, 2021.
Basilio Sepe/BenarNews

Updated at 11:36 p.m. ET on 2021-02-19

President Rodrigo Duterte may further ease coronavirus quarantine rules by March, his aides said Friday, even as the Philippines faces delays in the delivery of foreign-made coronavirus vaccines, which the government had earlier promised would begin arriving here in mid-February.

The Philippines stands behind neighboring Indonesia as the countries in East Asia hardest hit by cases from the global pandemic. As of Friday, the Philippines had recorded more than 557,000 cases overall that resulted in 11,829 deaths since the virus was first detected here early last year, according to data from Johns Hopkins University in the United States.  

In Manila, presidential spokesman Harry Roque said the new rules codified under the so-called “modified general community quarantine” (MGCQ) would be the “most relaxed” in the Philippines, which has been on various stages of a lockdown since March last year.

The mayors of the 16 cities and one municipality, which make up Metropolitan Manila, had also recommended to the Inter-Agency Task Force for the Management of Emerging Infectious Diseases (IATF-EID) that the same status cover the region and the rest of the country, he said.

“We expect that since both the IATF and Metro Manila mayors have sought the imposition of the MGCQ in the country, perhaps the president might agree,” Roque announced over government television, adding that President Rodrigo Duterte was expected to decide on this next Monday.

Lockdowns have been gradually eased and modified since March 2020. However, tighter restrictions remain in force in places still under a general community quarantine (GCQ) than in areas classified as under a modified general community quarantine.

The difference could be hugely felt in the business sector, which has been in the doldrums since last year. And with the economy shrinking by 9.5 percent last year, many local businessmen are struggling to keep their heads above water, officials said.

Based on the rules set by the inter-agency task force, businesses can operate at full capacity, subject to safety and health standards. But for those operating at 75 percent under the GCQ, they can now operate at 100 percent. And those at 50 percent under the GCQ can go to 75 percent under the MGCQ, officials said.

For now, Metro Manila, the northern Cordillera region, Batangas province south of the capital, the central city of Tacloban and four other southern cities, including Duterte’s hometown of Davao, remain under a general community quarantine.

The rest of the Philippines has been under the more relaxed quarantine for the month of February.

Earlier this week, Socioeconomic Planning Secretary Karl Kendrick Chua said the economy had suffered much during the extended lockdowns, which he said had caused 23.7 million more Filipinos to go hungry and 4.5 million more to fall into poverty.

“The data is alarming because we are also seeing a higher hunger incidence in Metro Manila,” Chua told a cabinet meeting this week. “Many cannot earn because they cannot go to work or lost their jobs, and this means more Filipinos are going to be hungry.”

He argued that many people needed to generate income to be able to tap hospital care as well for non-COVID reasons.

“The trade-off is not between health and economy, but between COVID-19 and non-COVID-19 threats, such as hunger, poverty, and other diseases,” Chua said.

The Philippine government had earlier promised that Pfizer-BioNTech coronavirus vaccine developed by U.S. firm Pfizer in partnership with the German firm BioNTech, and another one developed by Anglo-Swedish firm AstraZeneca would arrive in the country by mid-February, but has since said that the deliveries faced delays.

Last month, Philippine drug regulators cleared the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine for emergency-use in the country, which is expecting to receive at least 117,000 doses of the vaccine.

Meanwhile, Chinese firm Sinovac has also promised the delivery of about 600,000 doses of its vaccine. But that shipment cannot yet proceed because the company has not yet secured an emergency-use authorization from the Philippine Food and Drug Administration (FDA), the government has said.

It has not given a new delivery schedule, but the IATF as well as the health department have said that vaccines would arrive by the first quarter of this year.

On Friday, Roque said that Duterte was growing impatient with the delays in the procurement of vaccines.

“The president has already spoken. He said that he himself is getting impatient,” Roque said. “The vaccines should arrive by now, and because the president has already spoken it might help to get things to move along.”

This updated version clarifies information that government officials had given earlier about the timeline for vaccine deliveries.  

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