Duterte said the country “cannot forever be in the strict protocols” despite logging in 3,749 new COVID-19 infections Thursday – the highest in a day since September last year – bringing the total number of cases to 607,048.
“This is the devil and the deep blue sea for us, but I have to reopen the economy. I have given a timetable of just weeks,” the President said during the inauguration of the Port Operations Building in Dumaguete City.
“People are hungry. They have to work to eat, to survive,” he added.
The number of daily cases in recent weeks has been higher than those reported in January and February, mainly because of the spread in the National Capital Region. This prompted authorities to impose snap lockdowns as well as measures such as checkpoints and a uniform curfew.
Metro Manila mayors on Thursday evening agreed to implement uniform curfew hours starting Monday from 10 p.m. to 5 a.m., Metropolitan Manila Development Authority chairman Benhur Abalos said.
PNP spokesman Brig. Gen. Ildebrandi Usana, for his part, said they will tap the Special Action Force commandos to man the checkpoints, which will be focused on areas experiencing COVID-19 spikes.
The announcement followed police warnings against public displays of affection by couples, family members and friends in what critics said was a military response to a public health problem.
The Department of the Interior and Local Government, which oversees the PNP, said police issued warnings to nearly 50,000 people nationwide for violating health protocols in the first week of March. However, arrests have been kept at a minimum to ensure physical distancing in jails.
The League of Provinces, meanwhile, asked the national government to allow COVID-19 testing for travelers at the point of entry of their provinces, saying pre-travel testing could be risky.
In an interview with radio dzBB, LPP president and Marinduque Gov. Presbitero Velasco Jr. said the Inter-Agency Task Force on Emerging Infectious Diseases (IATF) already turned down their request but they are appealing the decision. He said the tests could be conducted at seaports and airports.
Meanwhile, the Philippine Genome Center said none of the emerging SARS-CoV-2 variants is dominant in the Philippines yet.
As of March 5, the country has logged about 118 cases infected with the B.1.1.7 or the UK variant and 58 with B.1.351 or the South African variant.
From over 3,000 genome sequences conducted since January this year, the “most frequently observed” was not a variant but a lineage called B.1.1.63 or the Hong Kong lineage, comprising about 24 percent of the total samples it collected, said PCG Health Program Director Dr. Eva Cutiongco-dela Paz.
She said it is inconclusive yet if this lineage was the reason for the continuing spike of COVID-19 cases in the country.
She added that the PGC has not detected the Brazilian P.1 variant yet.
Also on Thursday, the former special adviser of the National Task Force Against COVID-19, Dr. Tony Leachon. said granular lockdowns are useless in the absence of massive testing, organized and sustainable contact tracing, and isolation and quarantine facilities.
He said the high transmission rate now is not solely due to social mobility or lack of compliance with health protocols but due to the lack of “an agile response” to the new variants of the coronavirus.
He also cited the slow release of results of genomic centers making contact tracing difficult.
He branded as “scary” the sudden rise of COVID-19 cases and dismissed the pronouncement of presidential spokesperson Harry Roque that the government’s response to the pandemic is excellent.
Senator Joel Villanueva, meanwhile, lamented the slow pace at which vaccines were being administered.
At the current pace of administering 3,887 vaccine doses daily, the government might not fulfill the President’s promise of life returning to normal by 2023, Villanueva said.
“There’s a need to accelerate vaccine rollout because our economic recovery and the return of jobs lost to the pandemic depend on it,” said Villanueva, chairman of the Senate labor committee.
“If this is the pace of vaccination, it will take about 44 years to hit our target of 50 million to 70 million of our people [vaccinated].”
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