Duterte in a ‘quandary’ over restarting economy in April — Palace

President Rodrigo Duterte is studying whether to fully reopen the economy by April, the Palace said Friday, despite a spike in coronavirus infections.

Presidential spokesperson Secretary Harry Roque said the government is looking into easing of restrictions next month, a day after the president announced that he is in a “quandary” on giving in to the calls of his economic managers to loosen lockdowns.

“As you know, quarantine classifications are decided on a monthly basis. So, I think, we are looking at reopening the economy by April,” he told reporters.

The Palace official, however, said easing quarantine measures does not mean compromising public health, saying Filipinos have learned to adapt to the pandemic a year into the pandemic.

Roque also reiterated that the government cannot afford to impose prolonged lockdowns.

He added that the government is monitoring the country’s two-week attack rate and health care utilization rate in evaluating whether the country could shift into modified general community quarantine (MGCQ).

The country has been logging in over 3,000 coronavirus infections in recent days and it recorded 3,749 cases on Thursday — the highest single-day increase since September — raising the nationwide tally to 607,048.

Twelve Metro Manila cities were among the top 15 areas with a “significant” upward trend in the number of new Covid-19 cases, according to an analysis of the OCTA Research group.

In their latest report, the researchers said Quezon City, Manila, Pasay, Makati, Parañaque, Taguig, Caloocan, Pasig, Malabon, Valenzuela, Marikina, and Navotas have been reporting a higher number of new Covid-19 cases.

The group also flagged the rising infections in Antipolo and Cainta in Rizal, Bacoor, and Imus in Cavite, Santa Maria in Bulacan, and Baguio City.

Metro Manila, now classified as “high-risk,” averaged 1,546 new infections daily over the past week, bringing its reproduction number to 1.86, daily attack rate to 11 per 100,000 population, and positivity rate to 10 percent, the group said.

The overall hospital bed occupancy in the capital region also rose to 50 percent, while the occupancy rate of intensive care unit beds hit the 65-percent mark as of March 10, the researchers noted.

Intensified protocols

The pandemic response team is seeking to intensify health protocols imposed by local government units (LGUs) and business establishments amid the spike in coronavirus infections.

The Inter-Agency Task Force on Emerging Infectious Diseases (IATF) approved the health department’s recommendation to strengthen guidelines such as wearing of face masks and face shields, physical distancing, and frequent handwashing, said Roque.

Roque urged LGUs to mobilize barangay health emergency response teams to ensure that suspected Covid-19 patients would undergo swab tests, contact tracing, and isolation.

“Included in the recommendations approved is to ensure that all suspected cases would undergo RT-PCR test, as well as contact tracing and quarantine of all their close contacts within 24 hours,” Roque said.

He also said LGUs should ensure the compliance of business establishments in implementing risk mitigation strategies against Covid-19 such as proper ventilation and other engineering protocols.

Local officials are also expected to ensure that returning Filipino workers would observe the protocols set by the government.

Roque also said StaySafe PH, a contact tracing app launched by the government last year, should be used in the next ten days.

Meanwhile, the OCTA Research group noted that localized lockdowns have been proven effective in slowing down the upward trend in new infections.

Curfews, border controls, reduced capacity in certain establishments, fewer social gatherings, compliance with health protocols, and continued monitoring and strict implementation by authorities can help “put an end to this surge,” the researchers said.

Metro Manila mayors on Thursday agreed to implement a 10 p.m. to 5 a.m. curfew starting Monday in a bid to curb coronavirus transmission.

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