Two-week extension of lockdown in the Philippines’ Luzon island likely

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The Philippine government is looking at the possibility of extending the Luzon lockdown by 15 to 20 days. AFP

The lockdown on the Philippines’ largest and most populous island Luzon is likely to be extended by two weeks.

In a statement on Sunday, presidential spokesperson Salvador Panelo cited an “emerging consensus” among medical experts, businessmen, government officials and others that extending the lockdown by two weeks was “necessary”.

“Lifting it could be premature as it might wipe out the gains we have so far achieved in containing the virus,” Panelo said, adding that President Rodrigo Duterte was “all ears and eyes” on the situation.

“He is evaluating the best option to take that will effectively ensure the success of our war against this wily and faceless global enemy. He will make this decision in due time,” Panelo said.

Vice-President Leni Robredo said she supported a 15-to-20-day extension of the lockdown but urged the government to decentralise the distribution of cash aid so that families badly hit by the quarantine could receive financial relief fast.

“I think people must understand why [the extension] has to be done. If they don’t understand why it is necessary, there will be resistance,” Robredo said in a television interview.

“I think this resistance will be lessened if people understand why it needs to be done [and] if their basic needs are met,” she added.

Robredo said the distribution of relief under the social amelioration programme should be done by local governments, not by the Department of Social Welfare and Development so that it would go faster.

“Anything that is too centralised will affect the speed. I think local governments should do the distribution because they have the sense of what is happening on the ground,” she said.

Opposition Representative Edcel Lagman of Albay province also backed the extension of the Luzon lockdown but recommended that a steady supply of food and financial aid go with the extension.

Lagman said it would be counterproductive to begin mass testing for the new coronavirus when the lockdown had already been lifted.

“It would be extremely difficult to implement initial selective and subsequent comprehensive mass testing in a dispersed and mobile population,” he said.

Cabinet Secretary Karlo Nograles, spokesperson for the Inter-Agency Task Force on Emerging Infectious Diseases, said in a radio interview on Sunday that the group would meet throughout this week and submit a recommendation to Duterte as soon as possible.

In a radio interview on Sunday, Nograles said the available data was not enough for the body to make a decision last week.

“We wanted to see a clearer trend so we deferred it to this week so that we have two days’ worth of data that we can input in the models created. We will continue the discussions by [Monday]. Hopefully, things will be clearer by then,” Nograles said.

Carlito Galvez Jr, the chief implementer of the government’s response to Covid-19, the deadly disease caused by the new coronavirus, on Saturday said the government was looking at the possibility of extending the Luzon lockdown by 15 to 20 days.

An extension would give the government time to carry out mass testing, which is planned to begin by April 14.

Nograles said the task force was looking at several factors based on data and findings by epidemiologists, mathematicians and academic experts.

Among these are the epidemiological trend, the health-care system’s capacity, social, economic and security concerns, he said.

The Department of Health (DoH) reported on Sunday a total of 3,246 coronavirus cases, 152 more than 3,094 on Saturday. It said eight more patients had died, raising the toll to 152, and seven others had recovered, bringing the number of survivors to 64.

Health undersecretary Maria Rosario Vergeire maintained that the rising number of local infections was the result of the DoH’s expanded testing capacity. She explained that the slow recovery rate was due to the long process of bringing patients back to health.

A patient with a mild case of Covid-19 takes about two weeks to recover from the onset of symptoms, Vergeire said, citing studies. For severe or critical cases, it takes three to six weeks for the patient to recover, she said.

“That’s why many of our active cases have not been included yet in our list of recoveries,” she said.

The number of positive cases increases because the country’s testing capacity has increased, she added.

“Little by little, we’re able to catch up with our backlogs so we can say that we’re now seeing [the] real-time number of Covid-19 cases,” Vergeire said.

As of Sunday, she said, more than 19,000 people had been tested for the coronavirus. She said the figure included patients who had tested positive for the virus.

“They are tested repeatedly to monitor their progress,” she said.

Vergeire said the mass testing planned by the government was “targeted”.

“We need to prioritise the vulnerable members of the population such as pregnant women, those who are immunocompromised, and our front-line health workers who have the highest exposure to the virus,” she said.

PHILIPPINE DAILY INQUIRER/ASIA NEWS NETWORK