NCR mayors to seek two-week ECQ in meeting with IATF

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Metro Manila (CNN Philippines, July 29) — The quarantine classification imposed on Metro Manila for Aug. 1 to 15 may still change before the end of that period, as officials will meet again Thursday to discuss the government's next measures, Health Secretary Francisco Duque III has disclosed.

Speaking to CNN Philippines' The Source, Duque reiterated President Rodrigo Duterte's announcement that Metro Manila is still under the general community quarantine (GCQ) "with heightened restrictions" until August 15. Duque dispelled what he called "rumors of a looming lockdown" but clarified that the current status of the capital region is "not yet final."

READ: Metro Manila to remain under GCQ with heightened restrictions until August 15 

"That can change, correct," he said when asked if the quarantine status in the region can still change considering the IATF will meet again with Metro Manila Council on Thursday. He added that any change may likely cover August 1 to August 7 up to August 15.

"The NCR mayors, we met yesterday and since they are the implementing units on the ground, they have broached the idea that a higher community quarantine, if not, the highest community quarantine classification is something that they would welcome, endorse or recommend to the IATF (Inter-Agency Task Force for the Management of Emerging Infectious Diseases)," Duque said.

He added: "And that is why this afternoon, the IATF is meeting once again to address the NCR and also other regions where spikes or a relatively huge increase in cases has been observed."

The Metro Manila Council and the IATF already met on Wednesday to discuss the situation. But despite calls for a hard lockdown to arrest the ongoing surge in the capital region, Duterte approved the recommendation to retain the current community quarantine status for now.

Metro Manila mayors pushing for ECQ

In a media briefing, Metro Manila Development Authority chair Benhur Abalos said all mayors of cities and municipalities in the capital region will appeal to revert to the strictest measure, the enhanced community quarantine.

"ECQ talaga ang gusto namin (ECQ is what the mayors really want). If the funds of the national government will allow it, we are ready for that," Abalos said, referring to the fund that may be tapped to provide aid to lockdown-affected households.

He also noted that he was on mute for a long time during Wednesday's IATF meeting so he was not able to present appropriately the stand of the mayors.

The Metro Manila Council resolution which will be submitted to the IATF meeting at 2 p.m. also includes the mayors' request for at least 4 million vaccines from the national government to be administered to the general population if stricter measures will be implemented for two weeks.

Should their request be ignored, Abalos expressed hope that the IATF will consider imposing even stricter measures such as barring dine-ins in restaurants and encouraging more work-from-home arrangements for employees to reduce virus transmission.

Duque explained that the IATF will consider the availability of funds for subsidy and the available vaccines.

Business groups earlier expressed support for the two-week ECQ due to the Delta variant.

Cecilio Pedro from the Federation of Filipino Chinese Chambers of Commerce and Industry told CNN Philippines that while they are against a hard lockdown, the country really has no choice but to implement this, citing problems on the pandemic response like vaccine supply and contact tracing efforts.

"We are very strongly against total lockdown but at the same time wala naman tayong ibang (we do not have any other) solution. Other than a lockdown, what else can we do to contain the virus? It's the only way out," he said.

"The most important thing that the government should do at this point is to hasten vaccination, bring in the vaccines from all over the world and try to vaccinate all our people the soonest time," he added.

Pedro also said the lockdown should be implemented as early as possible while also allowing the private sector to continue its vaccination program to ensure the protection of workers, since they are greatly affected by economic restrictions.