Despite the assurances of Health Secretary Francisco Duque 3rd that the country is ready to shift to a more lenient quarantine classification, President Rodrigo Duterte junked the proposal to place the entire country under modified general community quarantine (MGCQ).
Palace spokesman Harry Roque Jr. said the President announced his decision during a meeting with members of his Cabinet on Monday.
“President Rodrigo Duterte gave his directive to the Cabinet that the Philippines would not be placed under Modified General Community Quarantine unless there is a rollout of vaccines,” he said in a statement.
“The Chief Executive recognizes the importance of reopening the economy and its impact on people’s livelihoods. However, the President gives higher premium to public health and safety,” he added.
Roque said the President wanted the nationwide vaccination to start the soonest possible time so the government can relax quarantine restrictions.
On Monday, the country posted 2,288 new coronavirus disease 2019 (Cocid-19) cases, the highest number for a single day this year, topping the 2,245 cases recorded on January 27.
The record rise came a day after the Department of Health reported 18 new cases of the more infectious B117 variant and more cases of E484K and N501Y mutations in Central Visayas.
Duque said it was time the country further eased quarantine restrictions, nearly a year after an enhanced community quarantine was enforced to fight the increasing cases of Covid-19.
“I think we are ready, because after one year, we have been able to keep our infection rates manageable, or at a level that has not overwhelmed the health care system. So, I think the local government units have been increasingly effective,” Duque said in an interview with CNN Philippines on Monday.
He added that the country was able to thwart a Covid-19 spike despite the easing of physical distancing rules in public transport in October and the increased mobility during the Christmas season.
In another briefing, Duque agreed with Metropolitan Manila Development Authority (MMDA) Chairman Benjamin Abalos Jr., who told The Manila Times in an interview that the metropolis can relax restrictions while rigorously maintaining efforts to keep the virus in check, such as localized lockdowns.
Duque said Pasay City resorted to a localized lockdown after an upturn in cases in the area.
He said the discovery of the new mutations was a sign of the stepped-up biosurveillance efforts through the formation of the Inter-Agency Task Force on New Variants and increased genomic sequencing.
“Halos 2 percent lang of all the samples na ginawan po ng whole genome sequencing ang nagpapakita ng variant na ito, so mababang mababa ang porsyento na ito (Only 2 percent of all the samples that we sequenced had the variant, so it is still very low),” Duque said.
The community transmission of these variants cannot as yet be ascertained because data so far gathered by the Philippine Genome Center (PGC) is not enough to come up with a definitive finding, he said.
The DoH wants to boost the capacity of the PGC to sequence more samples from Visayas and Mindanao and get a clearer picture of the spread of the new variant across the country, but Duque said the problem is the limited supply of reagents.
The country’s Covid-19 total caseload is almost 570,000 cases.