JUST as many citizens were looking forward to being footloose for out-of-town Holy Week excursions, the Inter-Agency Task Force (IATF) for Management of Emerging Infectious Diseases announced the enforcement of a General Community Quarantine (GCQ) covering Metro Manila, Bulacan, Cavite, Laguna, and Rizal from March 22 to April 4.
As the new restrictions were announced on Sunday, March 21, the country registered 7,757 new COVID-19 cases, the third straight daily count of more than 7,000 cases. The OCTA Research Group projects that the new daily cases could reach up to 10,000 by end-March, with about 5,000 cases in Metro Manila.
Malacañang emphasizes that the two-week GCQ “bubble” is not a hard lockdown as the level of economic activities has not been scaled back and public transportation will retain current capacity. The restrictions cover activities where people are likely to take off face masks, or be in close contact thereby enhancing the spread of the virus.
This situation is different from the imposition of a Modified Enhanced Community Quarantine (MECQ) in the same areas last August 2020 when health care workers called for a “timeout” to contain the outbreak that nearly overwhelmed the capacity of the health care system.
The four provinces adjoining Metro Manila were previously under the more relaxed Modified General Community Quarantine (MGCQ) but were merged with the National Capital Region into a GCQ area or bubble. According to the new IATF guidelines, “To prevent the transmission of COVID-19 to other parts of the country, only essential travel into and out of the subject area will be allowed.”
For the second straight year, Church-based Holy Week activities will not be held. Bishop Jesse Mercado of the diocese of Parañaque urged the faithful to “engage into a prayerful lockdown,” noting that the viral upsurge poses great health risks that call for the exercise of “prudence and social responsibility.”
A year after the imposition of harsh quarantine measures, it is imperative to evaluate how the Philippines is faring compared to other ASEAN countries.
According to the Johns Hopkins University tracker, latest figures on the number of cases reported during the last 24 hours shows the Philippines having the highest daily tally at 7,082 compared to Indonesia at 6,279 and Malaysia at 1,576. Thailand and Singapore reported only 100 and 15 cases, respectively.
While hope has been stoked by the initial rollout, citizen optimism is fading on account of the slow pace at which vaccine doses are being jabbed into the arms of frontline health workers.
In terms of vaccination, latest CNN tracker data shows a total of 240,297 doses administered in the Philippines. Indonesia, with a population of 271 million or 2.5 times larger than ours, has chalked up a total of 7,835,357 doses or 33 times what the Philippines has accomplished thus far.
The government must address this huge deficit in performance decisively to enable the country to traverse the path to economic recovery while ensuring the health and well being of the citizenry.