The government’s economic team will look for ways to further reopen more industries in areas under general community quarantine (GCQ) in a bid to curb rising unemployment and hunger amid the coronavirus disease 2019 (Covid-19) pandemic.
The plan was announced by Cabinet Secretary Karlo Nograles in a news conference on Tuesday after President Rodrigo Duterte rejected a proposal of the Inter-Agency Task Force for the Management of Emerging Infectious Diseases (IATF-EID) to place the entire country under the most lenient modified general community quarantine (MGCQ).
Nograles said it was possible that the government would relax restrictions imposed in areas under GCQ.
“In the meantime, our economic managers will devise a way for us to be able to act on that decision of the President and see [what they can do to further reopen the economy even under the GCQ framework],” he added.
“There are ways and means for us to safely reopen the economy some more within the framework of GCQ,” Nograles said.
Malacañang on Monday said the President rejected the proposal to place the entire country under MGCQ “unless there is a rollout of vaccines” for Covid-19.
“In the mind of the President, he wants to see first the vaccine rollout before he decides to reconsider his decision on the MGCQ shift,” Nograles said.
The Cabinet, according to him, fully supports the decision of the President to defer the shift to MGCQ until after the start of the nationwide vaccination.
He said the IATF-EID would again propose to the President the shift to MGCQ after the vaccine rollout.
“If we see the successful vaccine rollout, perhaps we can try again to ask the President [about] his sentiment on the shift to MGCQ,” Nograles added.
The President also rejected the proposal of the IATF-EID to allow the conduct of pilot face-to-face classes.
His decision was backed by a leader of the House of Representatives, who also on Tuesday urged the government to be “prudent” in easing quarantine restrictions so as not to unnecessarily exhaust the country’s healthcare system as a result of another surge of Covid-19 cases.
Deputy Speaker and Valenzuela First District Rep. Wes Gatchalian said he supports the gradual reopening of businesses to revive the economy but the safety of the people “must always come first.”
“It is better to err on the side of caution because should another surge in cases occur, we might needlessly flood our almost full-capacity hospitals to the detriment of the whole health care system,” he pointed out.
“We have to ensure that the Covid-19 cases in the country first stabilize to manageable levels before we begin easing quarantine restrictions nationwide,” Gatchalian said.
According to the lawmaker, while the country is set to receive supply of Covid-19 vaccines in the coming days, “the inoculation of the public does not necessarily guarantee immunity from the virus.”
He said the Covid-19 virus has already mutated into several strains, with the Department of Health recently confirming 18 more cases and a total of 62 cases of the highly contagious United Kingdom variant or B117.
Gatchalian noted that aside from the UK variant, the South African and Brazilian Covid-19 variants are also circulating globally and seem to spread more easily and quickly and may lead to more Covid-19 infections.
He cited health experts’ warning against easing quarantine restrictions in the entire country, especially in Metro Manila because of the upward trend in Covid-19 cases based on a report of the OCTA Research Group.
Gatchalian made the call after the National Economic and Development Authority recommended placing the entire country under MGCQ, the most lenient restriction.
Metro Manila mayors on Tuesday said they would “defer” to the President on his decision not to impose MGCQ.
In a statement, Metropolitan Manila Development Authority (MMDA) Chairman Benjamin “Benhur” Abalos Jr. said the mayors would “rally behind” the President even as the Metro Manila Council voted to put Metro Manila under MGCQ by March amid the pandemic.
“As what we have always emphasized, the Metro Manila mayors would always defer to the wisdom and judgment of the President,” Abalos added.
“We are one with him, and would exert all efforts and rally behind him in combating this Covid-19 pandemic,” he said.
Former vice president Jejomar Binay also lauded the President’s decision.
“The national leadership deserves to be recognized for making the right decision,” Binay said in a statement.
“The ideal scenario is for the government to relax quarantine restrictions alongside an infusion of economic relief and the mass vaccination of citizens,” he said.
Metro Manila mayors voted 9-8 in favor of MGCQ, while the rest of the Metro mayors chose to remain under GCQ.
With reports from DIVINA NOVA JOY DELA CRUZ AND JOHN ERIC MENDOZA