'Kaunti ang tao': Trade chief denies Filipinos flocked to malls upon easing of quarantine rules

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Metro Manila (CNN Philippines, May 18) — Trade Secretary Ramon Lopez on Monday denied several news reports and social media posts that hordes of Filipinos crowded shopping malls after quarantine restrictions were loosened.

Lopez, who was a resource person during the virtual hearing held by the House Defeat COVID-19 Committee’s (DCC) “New Normal” Cluster panel, said the foot traffic in malls over the weekend was considerably less than the number of people who strolled around shopping centers prior to the COVID-19 crisis.

"While we were interviewing, conducting a survey, the crowd was only about 20% of the usual number of a typical Sunday afternoon pre-COVID times. Kaunting kaunti po ang tao, only 20% of pre-COVID level," he told lawmakers.

He also said, of the stores who were allowed to reopen, only 20 percent chose to resume operations.

The trade secretary claimed the reports of overcrowding in malls amid the threat of COVID-19 were "fake news" to prove the Duterte administration was remiss in allowing malls to partially reopen starting May 16. He presented photos taken inside malls wherein not a lot of people were shown.

"There is no truth to all the fake news trying to discredit what the government has just decided," he said.

Despite Lopez's claim of misinformation, Presidential Spokesperson and COVID-19 task force spokesman Harry Roque admitted Filipinos trooped to malls on the first day of easing lockdown rules.

He said the public must have been excited to go out after being cooped up in their homes for two months during the Luzon-wide lockdown.

"Noong Sabado, dinagsa po ang mga malls. Parang nawala na ang katunayan na nandyan pa ang COVID-19. Wala na pong physical distancing, meron pa ngang nagtutulakan," he said in a media briefing.

[Translation: On Saturday, malls were crowded. People forgot about the threat of COVID-19. They did not observe social distancing, some were even shoving each other.]

Roque, sounding irked, continued: "Pababa na 'yung graph ngayon, pero pagkatapos po ng Sabado, sigurado ako, tataas 'yan ng napakatarik dahil nga po binalewala natin ang social distancing at iba pang health protocols."

[Translation: The COVID-19 trend is going down, but after Saturday, I am sure the cases will spike because we disregarded social distancing and other health protocols.]

This also forced the local government of Cavite Province to temporarily shut down all malls after residents failed to follow physical distancing rules and travel restrictions.

The national government has warned mall operators to enforce physical distancing protocols or face shut down. Roque said they may also face criminal charges for failure to implement minimum health standards.

Roque, however, stood by the government's decision to allow malls to reopen — saying it was based on science and economics.

He added Metro Manila, Bataan, Bulacan, Nueva Ecija, Pampanga, Zambales, Angeles City, and Laguna — which are under modified enhanced community quarantine to restart the country's economy — can easily switch back to a stricter ECQ if Filipinos continue to disregard lockdown rules.