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With new COVID infections still growing at a record clip, why is NCR going on MECQ?

By Bim Santos Published Aug 20, 2021 6:03 pm

Even as the number of new COVID-19 infections in the country is still proceeding at a record pace, the government’s pandemic response team has decided to downgrade the lockdown status of Metro Manila and Laguna to modified enhanced community quarantine or MECQ from Aug. 21 to 31. In various interviews, government officials have expressed the growing need to revitalize the flagging economy while keeping infections at bay.

Today, Aug. 20, the number of new COVID-19 cases hit 17,231, a new record that breached the previous pandemic peak of 15,310 last April 2.

But in an interview early today, National Task Force Against COVID-19 chief implementer Carlito Galvez said that maintaining the enhanced community quarantine status (ECQ) is untenable.

“Mahirap yung pabalik-balik tayo sa ECQ. It’s not sustainable that’s why the decision of the IATF is more stringent granular lockdowns and also yung imposition ng discipline and obedience sa quarantine control,” Galvez said.

The National Economic and Development Authority has said that the toll of ECQ to the country’s economy is at least P150 billion in lost economic output. It also affects 600,000 workers and increases the number of the poor by about 250,000. This economic cost is also on top of the budget spent for cash assistance or ayuda.

On Aug. 18, the inter-agency Development Budget Coordination Committee lowered the country’s economic growth projections from the previous 6-7% to 4-5% due to the effect of the ECQ imposition.

Health and livelihood
Based on the country’s previous experience, the gains in terms of a decrease in the number of new COVID-19 cases usually sets in two weeks after the imposition of a lockdown. But even if cases have yet to go down, Galvez said he is confident that the infection rate will be eventually controlled.

Benhur Abalos, Metropolitan Manila Development Authority chair, said the MECQ imposition is a compromise between controlling the infection’s spread and restoring people’s livelihood.

“Importante mapigilan natin wag dumami (ang mga kaso). On the other hand naman, marami tayong kababayan na nagugutom, mga maraming walang trabaho, kaya ang ginawa ng IATF, gumawa tayo ng solusyon na maganda para sa lahat,” said Abalos.

Based on the DOH bulletin today, 74% of ICU beds in Metro Manila are now occupied. A number of hospitals have also announced that their COVID-19 wards are now at full capacity.

Travel bubble
Joey Concepcion, presidential adviser for entrepreneurship, likewise supported the government’s decision to downscale NCR to MECQ.

Concepcion said that as more and more people get vaccinated, the government should instead allow greater mobility for these vaccinated individuals to help reignite economic activity.

“This bubble for the vaccinated and unvaccinated… will allow the economy to open up safely without any more lockdowns,” said Concepcion in an interview with CNN Philippines.

Edsel Salvana, a member of the IATF Technical Advisory Group, also expressed optimism in a Facebook post.

“Even with the high cases, we are paradoxically seeing a trend of decreasing ICU utilization in NCR. How is this possible? VACCINATION. The more people are vaccinated, the less people develop severe and critical disease,” said Salvana.

Peter Cayton, as associate professor of the UP School of Economics, disputed Salvana’s claim in the latter’s Facebook post, saying there is “no trend of declining ICU utilization.”

In the latest DOH bulletin, 94.1% of the total active cases were tagged as mild. But even then, the number of fatalities also climbed by 317 to a total of 31,198 as the severe or critical cases are still affected in the total.

Dr. Tony Leachon, who was a government COVID-19 task force adviser, told CNN that he believes shifting to MECQ is a “wrong decision.”

“We might be suffering the consequences of that wrong decision because the fundamental principle in slowing down the virus is basically a tighter quarantine and I think it would be worse if we see more lives lost,” said Leachon.

(Thumbnail and banner post: Residents of Malabon are inoculated at the Immaculate Heart Of Mary Parish on Saturday, August 14, 2021. KJ Rosales / The Philippine STAR)