By Kyle Aristophere T. Atienza and Vann Marlo M. Villegas, Reporters
THE GOVERNMENT has moved the reopening of movie houses in Metro Manila to March 1, according to the presidential palace, after mayors who warned of coronavirus risks opposed the plan.
Cinemas might be allowed to reopen next month subject to the approval of local governments, presidential spokesman Herminio “Harry” L. Roque, Jr. told a televised news briefing on Monday.
He earlier said an inter-agency task force (IATF) made up of Cabinet officials had allowed movie theaters to reopen in areas under a general lockdown on Feb. 15.
“The Inter-Agency Task Force and your mayors are not in a cockfight,” Mr. Roque said in Filipino. “We agree that the economy should gradually be reopened because more people now are going hungry than those who get sick or die due to coronavirus.”
Philippine cinemas would be allowed to operate with up to half their capacity in areas under a general lockdown, Trade Secretary Ramon M. Lopez said on Sunday.
He said movie theaters could fill half their seats in these areas under a general community quarantine and up to 75% of seats in areas under a modified general quarantine.
The government recently allowed cinemas and other leisure establishments such as arcades, cultural centers, theme parks and tourist attractions to resume operations in areas under a general lockdown.
Earlier in the day, Paranaque Mayor Edwin L. Olivarez said the task force’s “economic team” had allowed local governments in the capital region to defer the implementation of the new policy.
Caloocan City Mayor Oscar G. Malapitan and Marikina City Mayor Marcelino R. Teodoro said allowing people to gather inside cinemas could lead to a fresh surge in infections. Mr. Teodoro said movie theaters in his city would remain shut.
Meanwhile, Manila City has offered free swab tests to cinema workers including janitors, security guards, tellers, ushers, porters, ticket tellers and snack bar attendants.
“I won’t allow cinemas to open until the workers get tested,” Manila Mayor Francisco M. Domagoso said in a statement in Filipino. “We will extend assistance. Those who want to work, you have to follow these simple guidelines.”
“The decision of the IATF to ease certain restrictions such as the reopening of cinemas has no health or medical basis,” Gene A. Nisperos, a medical doctor and co-founder of health advocacy Second OpinionPH, said in a Facebook Messenger chat.
The task force’s new policy is “subordinated to economic reasons, which is wrong because there is still a pandemic,” he said.
Mr. Nisperos said the public remains unprotected and left on their own. “Simply following minimum health standards amidst this kind of arbitrariness is not enough and will put people at risk.”
He said health authorities, not the military and police, should lead the government’s pandemic response.
The Department of Health (DoH) reported 1,685 coronavirus infections on Monday, bringing the total to 550,860. The death toll rose by two to 11,517, while recoveries increased by 14 to 511,755, it said in a bulletin.
There were 27,588 active cases, 86.6% of which were mild, 6.9% did not show symptoms, 2.8% were severe and 0.86% were moderate.
DoH said one duplicate had been removed from the tally, while two recovered cases were reclassified as deaths. Six laboratories failed to submit their data on Feb. 14.
More than 7.8 million Filipinos have been tested for the coronavirus as of Feb. 13, according to DoH’s tracker website.
Meanwhile, Health Undersecretary Maria Rosario S. Vergeire said one of the five people infected with a more contagious coronavirus variant had a link to the cluster of cases at the Metro Rail Transit-3 (MRT-3).
The 46-year-old woman from Pasay City tested positive for the disease on Jan. 25 and was under home quarantine. Her son worked at the MRT-3, she told an online news briefing.
Another was a 20-year-old woman from Mountain Province in northern Philippines who tested positive on Jan. 12 .
A 37 year-old-man from Bukidnon also tested positive for the new strain last month. He spent some time in Metro Manila before testing positive, Ms. Vergeire said.
A 25 year-old woman from Dasmarinas, Cavite also tested positive for the new variant on Jan. 31 and had been isolated.
A 47-year-old woman from Las Pinas City was also positive for the new strain. The returning overseas Filipino from Morocco arrived Jan. 12,. She was under home quarantine, she said.
The five were among the six people whom the Health department said last week were still being verified.
Ms. Vergeire said the sixth case was a 49 year-old man from Rizal province. It was unknown whether he is a local or a migrant worker.
There were now 44 confirmed cases infected with the new variant.
Meanwhile, the Metropolitan Manila Development Authority (MMDA) said metro mayors support reopening of the economy “gradually.”
“There should be a calibration of both the health and the economic teams with the local government units and all affected sectors,” MMDA Chairman Benhur Abalos told a news briefing. “We are one with the economic team in the reopening of business activities but we cannot do it hastily.”