RESPONDING to the ardent plea from healthcare workers, Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte has relegated the country’s capital and its nearby provinces under a modified enhanced community quarantine (MECQ) beginning August 4 until August 18.

Duterte approved the Cabinet’s recommendation to return to a more stringent lockdown in response to the medical community’s plea for a time-out.

“I have heard the call of different groups from the medical community for a two-week enhanced community quarantine (ECQ) in Mega Manila. I fully understand why you, health workers, would like to ask for such a timeout. They have been in the frontlines for months and they are exhausted,” he said.

The president, in turn, asked the healthcare front-liners to extend their patience and fervor while treating COVID-19 patients.

Aside from Metro Manila, the provinces of Laguna, Rizal, Cavite and Bulacan were also placed under MECQ.

Under this quarantine status, a strict home quarantine will be observed in all households. There will be no public transport, domestic flights, and mass gatherings. There will also be limited transporting services for essential goods and services.

Malacañang, for its part, believed that reverting to MECQ is the right step in battling the pandemic.

“Habang mababa po ang namamatay, tama po ang ginagawa natin. At tingin ko po, papunta tayo sa tamang direksyon na tayo ay nag MECQ (While the death toll remains low, I believe we’re doing the right thing. I think we are headed to the right direction by declaring MECQ),” Presidential Spokesperson Harry Roque said Monday, August 3.

Meanwhile, Health Undersecretary Maria Rosario Vergeire said the time-out will give the government the time to re-strategize.

“With these two weeks, we will use it well…hindi po natin masasabi (we cannot say) if we can contain the transmission in two weeks. We don’t see that happening actually, pero ang magagawa naman po natin mauumpisahan po natin itong mas pinaigting na response (but we can do is start improving our response),” she said.

Request by health experts

In an open letter addressed to the president, medical front-liners pleaded for at least two weeks of “breathing space” by placing Metro Manila under an enhanced community quarantine (ECQ) again.

“Dear President Duterte, healthcare workers are united in sounding off a distress signal to the nation that our healthcare system has been overwhelmed,” the letter read.

“We are waging a losing battle against COVID-19, and we need to draw up a consolidated, definitive plan of action,” it added.

The letter was signed by 80 medical associations representing 80,000 doctors and a million nurses. It was then read by Philippine Medical Association (PMA) President Dr. Jose Santiago during an online press conference headed by the Philippine College of Physicians (PCP) on Saturday, August 1.

“We propose that the ECQ be used as a timeout to refine our pandemic control strategies addressing the following urgent conditions or problems: hospital workforce efficiency; failure of contact tracing and quarantine; transportation safety; workplace safety; public compliance with self-protection; social amelioration,” Santiago read.

The medical front-liners recommended shifting Metro Manila back to ECQ for two weeks, from August 1 to 15.

“Our health workers should not bear the burden of deciding who lives and who dies. If the health system collapses, it is ultimately our poor who are most compromised. In the end, winning the war against COVID-19 relies heavily on being able to keep our health system capacitated to address the needs of all Filipinos” the letter stressed.

DOH backs plea
The Department of Health (DOH), in response, backed the medical community’s appeal for a time-out.

“We support the call of our frontliners to ensure a science-based approach and stricter implementation of community quarantine measures,” the agency said Sunday, August 2.

“In our dialogue earlier with the medical community, we have committed to advocate for the call for a time-out for NCR in our IATF (Interagency Task Force) meeting,” it added.

According to the DOH, the time-out plea will buy the government the time to refine and revisit strategies in the country’s fight against COVID-19.

“The time out you have asked for will buy us the time to refine and revisit our strategies to meet the evolving nature of this global pandemic. At the same time, this reprieve can also give us the critical space to marshal resources that will help us win this fight,” the agency said.

“The battle is not over, and it will not be for a long-time yet. But this is where, with you, we are drawing a line in the sand — and starting strongly and without hesitation that from this point on, we will marshall all our efforts to turn the tide,” it added.

The DOH also said it will provide a roadmap and technical assistance to ensure that local government units put in place effective contact tracing operations.

Duterte scolds health care workers

Duterte, on the other hand, said that the medical frontliners shouldn’t have made a public statement for their appeal.

According to the president, they could have just written him a letter or asked for an audience to request for ECQ.

“You raise the spectacle of your agony and you treat it as if you’re about ready to stop work. ‘Wag naman ganoon, kasi kawawa ang mga kababayan. Sino ang maasahan ngayon (Do not do that because it will be unfortunate for our people. Who can we turn to then)?” Duterte said.

“I am sure that is not in your heart, I am sure that in your despair, I would like to tell you na ang iyong gobyerno ay hindi nag-iiwan ng mga trabahante (Your government doesn’t leave out workers). We are doing everything possible to alleviate the situation, to assist our health care workers,” he added.

The president also dared the healthcare workers to stage a revolution if they think it is the answer to the country’s COVID-19 problem.

“Ang COVID-19 nandiyan, walang may kasalanan. Ni ikaw wala kang solution, eh (COVID-19 is here, it’s no one’s fault. But even you don’t have a solution). What are you babbling about? What’s the solution?” he said.

“Kung mag-rebolusyon kayo (If you’ll start a revolution), you will give me a free ticket to stage a counter-revolution. How I wish you would do it,” he added.

Duterte also said not to demean the government, stressing that people are not criticizing but demeaning their own government.

“To go almost on a ‘not really a rampage’ but an outrage, parang galit, ‘wag naman ganoon kasi alam naman ninyo nagtatrabaho kaming lahat (like you are angry, do not do that because we are all working here),” he said.

“Next time you can just ask for an audience pero wag po kayong magsigaw-sigaw, rebolusyon (but avoid rampage, revolution),” he added.

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