Health system ready for eased lockdown — presidential palace

By Kyle Aristophere T. Atienza, Reporter

THE COUNTRY’S healthcare system is ready in case the lockdown in the capital region and nearby areas is eased further, according to the presidential palace.

Metro Manila has enough hospital beds to accommodate coronavirus patients, presidential spokesman Herminio “Harry” L. Roque, Jr. told a televised news briefing on Monday.

“There are enough beds to treat the sick,” he said in Filipino. “Second, the vaccinations will continue.”

The task force leading the country’s pandemic response at the weekend approved a proposal from economic planners to put the entire country under a modified general community quarantine (MGCQ) — the most relaxed lockdown level — to boost economic growth.

“Cases might soar but the truth is, we are ready,” Mr. Roque said, adding that the government had been boosting the country’s healthcare system since the lockdown started in mid-March.

“But if the President will say ‘The vaccine is there, so let’s vaccinate first,’ it’s not really a problem because the Inter-Agency Task Force is just recommendatory,” he added.

The OCTA Research Group from the University of the Philippines earlier said coronavirus cases in the capital region could reach as high as 2,400 daily if the lockdown is eased.

“If restrictions in the National Capital Region are relaxed to very loose levels, the region will be under a constant threat of a surge due to the increased mobility of people, reduced social distancing and diminished compliance with health protocols,” it said in a report.

The Cordillera Administrative Region in northern Philippines was placed under a general lockdown this month, joining Metro Manila and other cities with high rates of coronavirus infections after a new virus variant was detected there.

Also on Monday, Health Secretary Francisco T. Duque III said the critical use rate in public and private hospitals in Metro Manila, the virus epicenter, stood at 34% which was “low-risk.”

He said local governments were more equipped to contain the coronavirus after a year of handling the pandemic.

“We really have to move towards risk mitigation rather than risk aversion,” Mr. Duque told a separate online news briefing.

Meanwhile, President Rodrigo R. Duterte has rejected the Education department’s fresh bid to pilot-test physical classes in areas with low coronavirus cases, Mr. Roque said.

“The President has decided that there would still be no face-to-face classes,” he said in Filipino.

Mr. Duterte didn’t want to endanger the lives of students and teachers pending the government’s coronavirus immunization program, he added.

Limited physical classes could take place in August in areas with low coronavirus infections if the immunization plan goes according to plan, he said.

The government aims to start its vaccination drive this month. It will depend on the arrival of vaccines donated by the Chinese government after failing to take delivery of an initial batch of 117,000 doses under a global initiative for equal access.

Mr. Duterte in late 2020 recalled an inter-agency task force decision allowing the pilot testing of face-to-face classes after a more contagious coronavirus variant was detected in the United Kingdom and has since reached the Philippines.

Education Secretary Leonor M. Briones last week renewed her calls for the resumption of face-to-face classes, noting that more than 50% of students wanted physical classes to resume.

She said the Philippines was the only country in Southeast Asia that had yet to resume physical classes amid a coronavirus pandemic.

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