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Only 2 Cases Can Trigger Local Lockdown, Says Metro Council Chief

Only 2 Cases Can Trigger Local Lockdown, Says Metro Council Chief
A resident of a compound in Barangay Pinyahan, Quezon City placed under special concern lockdown receives food aid on Sept. 15, 2021. Photo by Michael Varcas, The Philippine STAR

It will take only two confirmed cases of COVID-19 for a local government unit (LGU) to declare a localized lockdown in a street, compound or sitio, Parañaque City Mayor and Metro Manila Council (MMC) chairman Edwin Olivarez said on Wednesday, Sept. 15.

Olivarez said this was based on the guidelines given by the Department of the Interior and Local Government (DILG), which is in charge of implementing the new Alert Level System to mitigate the effect of COVID-19 in the country.

A granular lockdown, which would be in force for at least 14 days, can also apply to a floor of a condominium building if only one resident turns out positive for COVID-19, Olivarez noted at a "Laging Handa" public briefing.

He explained everyone living in the granular lockdown area would be prohibited from leaving except for healthcare workers, uniformed personnel and departing or arriving overseas Filipino workers.

Meanwhile, both the national government – through the Department of Social Welfare and Development – and the LGU would take turns in providing food packs, not cash assistance, to residents of areas under granular lockdown, the mayor said.

Sen. Grace Poe appealed to LGUs to give their communities “reasonable warning” before their areas are placed on granular lockdown to allow concerned families to stock up on food, medicine, water and other essentials.

“We appeal to local government units not to resort to the shock-and-awe method of enforcing granular lockdowns in communities,” Poe said. “Households should be given reasonable warning before their areas are sealed and secured.”

In Manila, Mayor Francisco “Isko Moreno” Domagoso signed an executive order reiterating the national government policy on the pilot implementation of alert level system and the granular lockdowns.

The Quezon City government, meanwhile, will continue with the implementation of special concern lockdown (SCL) policy that is similar to the granular lockdowns mandated by the Inter-Agency Task Force (IATF) for the Management of Emerging Infectious Diseases.

“The city may implement SCLs not only when vital to contain COVID-19 outbreaks, but also when preemptively necessary in areas with high risk of disease transmission due to widespread health protocol violations and other relevant factors,” read the guidelines signed by Mayor Joy Belmonte.

“The city government, in coordination with the barangay concerned, shall determine the precise area covered by each SCL on a case-to-case basis,” it added.

Metro Manila have been placed under Alert Level 4 by the national government starting Thursday, Sept. 16.

Medical frontliners doubtful

Medical frontliners aired their objection to the new alert level system in the National Capital Region (NCR), saying it is not the answer to the spikes in COVID-19 cases in the country.

At a press briefing, Alliance of Health Workers (AHW) president Robert Mendoza said the system will not work unless the government provides free swab testing to identify those who are really infected with COVID-19.

Mendoza said having free COVID-19 testing will give a more accurate picture of the pandemic in localities.

He said the government should scale up contact tracing as well as isolation and quarantine to prevent the transmission of the virus.

Cristy Donguines, president of the Jose Reyes Memorial Medical Center Employees Union-AHW, said the granular lockdown that goes with the implementation of the Alert Level System is “confusing.”

Donguines said the government should just continue with the community quarantine system because “people are already used to it” and it is “easier to understand.”

She also cited incidents when health care workers were locked out of their areas of residence which were placed under granular lockdown while they were on duty in hospitals.

Private Hospitals Association of the Philippines Inc. president Jose Rene de Grano said he doubts the new alert system would work because it is anchored on the country’s case transmission rate which is “not very reliable.”

“Personally, I don’t think it will help,” De Grano said. “Its basis would be the case transmission rate. We don’t have a very reliable transmission rate.”?Like Mendoza, he believes the system could be effective only if the tracing of people who came in contact with a person infected with COVID-19 is “credible and well done.”

Also, determining the alert level could not be based on hospital occupancy rates in a locality because it is unreliable, he said. Citing the cities of Makati and Taguig, De Grano said the health care utilization rates in these areas are expected to be high because they host big hospitals.

“This is a trial, experimental, I think, so anyway after two weeks maybe they will think of another way to do it. Hopefully, they’ll learn something from it,” he added.

DOH justifies new system

Justifying the shift to granular lockdowns from larger community quarantine classifications in Metro Manila, the Department of Health (DOH) said 80% of new COVID-19 cases come from the NCR.

And of these 80% of cases, the DOH noted 11%  to 30%  are from the barangays in NCR Plus areas, particularly highly urbanized cities in the region.

Health Undersecretary Maria Rosario Vergeire said the “analysis supports the move to focus on imposing granular lockdowns on selected areas rather than wide scale lockdowns of entire provinces, HUCs and independent component cities” which heavily impact the livelihood of Filipinos.

“Additionally, wide-scale lockdowns might no longer be effective since data show that the majority of Filipinos in NCR were mobile during the enhanced community quarantine on Aug. 10 than the previous ECQ last April 2021 as more essential activities and workers were allowed,” she added.

Vergeire said the DOH finds that based on a set of assumptions, total active cases in NCR by Sept. 30 may range from 152,000 to 330,000 cases.

“This is not cast in stone since lower case projections are achieved when we improve adherence to the minimum public health standards, reduce case detection to isolation time and in-crease vaccination coverage even at lower or less restrictive community quarantines,” she added.

Binay: We’re running in circles

Sen. Nancy Binay, for her part said, “For as long as alert levels and granular lockdowns are not complemented with simultaneous testing and tracing and no ayuda (financial assistance), we will remain in the same situation. We’d be running in circles.”

Citing how other countries employ technology for contact tracing, Binay said that here in the NCR, there is only household tracing but none from public transportation.

“Until testing and tracing are raised, we will go back to the same problems,” she said.

Binay also lamented how the proposed P5.024-trillion budget for 2022 is not designed to address the problems posed by pandemic.

“The 2022 budget is not ready for a war with COVID-19, lacking in so many aspects. There is no budget for tracing. I asked the DBM (budget department), they claimed the Department of the Interior and Local Government did not request for it,” she said.

She also pointed out the very small budget for free testing and supported the idea of Sen. Sonny Angara for more flexibility in budget processes.

‘No massive displacement’

Meanwhile, the Department of Labor and Employment (DOLE) sees no massive displacement of workers in the NCR with the implementation of the new alert level system.

“If ever some workers will be affected, DOLE is still prepared to provide assistance that these workers are entitled to,” Labor Secretary Silvestre Bello III said at a virtual briefing, noting that Alert Level 4 only affects isolated locations.

Bello said certain commercial establishments like restaurants are allowed to accept dine-in customers, so more employees can now work.

The labor secretary also stressed that the prohibition against “no vaccine, no work” remains even if vaccinated individuals are allowed to eat inside restaurants.

PNP ready

The Philippine National Police (PNP) assured the public that it has put all measures in place and made the proper adjustments and coordination with LGUs in Metro Manila for the enforcement of the new system.

PNP chief Gen. Guillermo Eleazar all areas placed under granular lockdowns have been identified and distribution of assistance for the affected residents has been prepared.

“Your PNP is ready to implement the new policy,” Eleazar said, noting the shortened curfew hours from 10 p.m. to 4 a.m. that will be implemented by police together with barangay officials.

Lt. Gen. Israel Ephraim Dickson, PNP deputy chief for operations and head of the Joint Task Force COVID Shield, said they will put up checkpoints in areas under granular lockdown in coordination with barangay officials. – With Cecille Suerte Felipe, Paolo Romero, Mayen Jaymalin, Emmanuel Tupas, Jose Rodel Clapano, Janvic Mateo