No recommendations from health experts to extend lockdown on entire Luzon – Roque

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Metro Manila (CNN Philippines, April 21) — Health experts have recommended to President Rodrigo Duterte a modified enhanced community quarantine (ECQ), which will allow the easing of the Luzon lockdown in areas with few or no COVID-19 infections.

Presidential spokesperson Harry Roque on Tuesday said that despite the “well researched” recommendations presented by medical experts, Duterte has yet to make a decision on the fate of the lockdown enforced over Luzon.

"Wala pong nagrecommenda ng total lockdown (No one recommended total lockdown)," Roque said of Duterte's five-hour meeting on Monday with several health policy experts.

Roque said experts tapped to give advice on how to address the health crisis recommended the modification of the lockdown rules in Luzon. He added majority of the group who presented their ideas to Duterte suggested that lockdown rules be focused on areas with a high number of COVID-19 cases.

“Ang malinaw ay walang nag-recommend na ang ECQ ay ipatupad sa buong Luzon…Parang nagkaroon nga po ng concensus na ang approach kung ire-relax, imemaintain, o ili-lift ay depende sa lugar at kung gaanong laganap ang sakit na COVID-19,” he said in a media briefing.

[Translation: No one recommended that enhanced community quarantine shall cover the entire Luzon. There was a consensus that relaxing, maintaining, or lifting will be based on the area and how widespread the cases are.]

The Philippines has a total of 6,459 COVID-19 cases, with the majority recorded in Metro Manila. 428 have died, while 613 have recovered.

Meanwhile, COVID-19 Inter-Agency Task Force spokesperson Karlo Nograles said Duterte asked them to present more options as to what happens after April 30.

“Tuloy-tuloy pa po ang ating meetings because kahapon, noong nagpresent ang members ng IATF to the President, hindi pa po nakapag-decide si President anong gagawin after April 30. Binalik niya muna sa IATF ang pagtuloy ng aming discussions para mas mabigyan namin si Pangulong Duterte ng more options that he can take a look at it,” he said in a separate media briefing.

[Translation: Our meetings will continue because when IATF members presented to the President yesterday, he still hasn’t decided what will happen after April 30. He told us to continue our discussions so we can give him more options to look at.]

He added that during the meeting, the task force members discussed which industries can go back to work with some modifications. The considerations include which nonessential businesses can operate again while observing physical distancing rules.

Nograles believes the President needed more options and more time to decide on the fate of over 57 million Filipinos living in Luzon who are affected by strict rules and limited social movement.

“(He) Needs more time basically, so binalik sa IATF for more extensive discussions then we'll come back to him with ano ang output ng discussions,” he added.

Nograles, who also serves as Cabinet Secretary, reiterated the decision of Duterte will be based on the following parameters: COVID-19 epidemiological curve, the capacity of the health care system, and the social, economic, and security factors.

He said Philippines is moving towards “controlling” the rise in the number of cases. He said before the expanded testing, around 17 percent of those being tested were resulting in positive cases. However, he said there is now a downward trend, with only 13 percent of the persons tested being confirmed to have the disease.

Nograles said Philippine officials will be more confident to revise the current lockdown guidelines if testing capabilities continue to go up.

“We will be more confident of going into modified quarantine if our testing capacity is expanded even more,” he said.

Nograles and Roque are confident there is enough time for Duterte to decide on the Luzon lockdown, just nine days before the quarantine is slated to end.

“It's an open-ended deadline. He can decide today or by April 30,” the president’s spokesperson said.