Duterte skirts announcement on ECQ lifting or extension, leaves details to spokesman

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Metro Manila (CNN Philippines, May 12) — President Rodrigo Duterte's highly-anticipated address televised Tuesday disappointed those awaiting news on which areas will continue to be on strict lockdown and where quarantine rules will be relaxed. He left those details for his spokesman to announce.

Instead, he warned that Philippines cannot bear the effects of another wave of COVID-19 cases should the country slowly ease into a more relaxed community quarantine.

In his hour-long address taped on Monday, Duterte mentioned that some high-risk areas will remain under strict lockdown while other areas will be placed under a general community quarantine (GCQ). He said areas with high transmission rate will be locked down, but he did not elaborate.

The President then tasked his spokesperson, Harry Roque, to thoroughly enumerate the areas that will remain under enhanced community quarantine (ECQ) after May 15 with revised lockdown rules. Roque made the announcement hours later. 

Duterte said that as some areas of the country shift from ECQ to GCQ, "new normal" rules will remain in place to ensure the COVID-19 cases will not spike as stay-at-home rules are eased.

"Dahan-dahan lang para hindi tayo madapa. We cannot afford a second or third wave na mangyari. Ito ang bagong mahawa at dadami na naman dahil mayroon tayong rules na hindi sinunod," he said in his address, which aired on Tuesday.

[Translation: We will do it gradually so we don't fail. We cannot afford a second or third wave or cases. We cannot afford a spike in cases because we did not follow rules.]

Health Secretary Francisco Duque III has claimed the country has started flattening the curve of new cases. However, on Monday, the country recorded nearly 300 new COVID-19 cases.

Duterte reminded the public it is mandatory to wear a face mask or improvised face cover when going outside the house or risk getting apprehended by the police. He also said physical distancing must be observed at all times.

"Ito ang new life until such time na mayroon nang vaccine... Sundin lang ninyo iyan. Importante, whether you are allowed to go out or not," he said.

[Translation: This will be your new life until a vaccine is approved. Follow the rules, whether you are allowed to go out or not.]

COVID-19 Response Chief Implementer Carlito Galvez said the gradual transition to GCQ is important because of the blow of the coronavirus crisis to the country's economy.

"The government cannot endure ECQ for an extended period of time as its resources are very limited hence it has to balance between health and economy," he said.

The Philippine economy pulled back in the first quarter, contracting by 0.2 percent as the COVID-19 pandemic leaves millions of businesses and households paralyzed under lockdown.

Finance Secretary Sonny Dominguez suggested hiring more contact tracers to help identify positive cases and at the same time help workers displaced by the COVID-19 crisis.

Metro Manila and other regions and provinces remain under ECQ until May 15. Beyond that, their fate remains unknown pending Roque's announcement. The other parts of the country, meanwhile, are placed under GCQ.

The country has 11,086 confirmed COVID-19 cases as of Monday — 7,123 of which were recorded in Metro Manila. Recoveries have reached 1,999 while 726 have died of the disease.