COVID-19 cases in PH could reach 75,000 in months if not contained – DOH

The Diocese of Borongan has put yellow lines on the pews inside churches to ensure that the faithful would be at arms-length of each other.
| photo by Alren Beronio

The Philippine Department of Health said novel coronavirus (COVID-19) cases in the country could rise to 75,000 in two to three months if the spread of the contagion is not contained.

“Within two to three months, it can reach that peak in which 75,000 may possibly get infected,” said Health Undersecretary Maria Rosario Vergeire on Wednesday, March 18.

However, she noted that it is possible to “flatten the curve” as long as strict measures are in place.

“That means we can spread out the infections across many months if we only can implement stringent measures such as social distancing,” she said.

As of writing, there are a total of 202 confirmed cases of COVID-19 in the country, with 17 fatalities and seven recoveries.

President Rodrigo Duterte Duterte on Tuesday, March 17, signed Proclamation 929, which declares a state of calamity for six months unless lifted earlier extended “as circumstances may warrant.”

The declaration enjoins all government agencies and local government units (LGUs) to render full assistance in combating the spread of the disease.

“All government agencies and LGUs are enjoined to render full assistance to and cooperation with each other and mobilize the necessary resources to undertake critical, urgent, and appropriate disaster response aid and measures in a timely manner to curtail and eliminate the threat of COVID-19,” stated Duterte’s proclamation.

His declaration also directs law enforcement agencies, with the support from the Armed Forces of the Philippines, “to undertake all necessary measures to ensure peace and order.”

A day before, the president placed Luzon on an enhanced community quarantine to contain the spread of virus in the country.

“I have come to the conclusion that stricter measures are necessary. For this reason, pursuant to my powers as President under the constitution and RA 11332, I am placing the entire mainland of Luzon under enhanced community quarantine until April 12, 2020,” he said in a nationally televised address.

These dogs in Dumaguete City, Negros Oriental seem to practice social distancing as they were caught sleeping a few distances away from each other. | Photo by Patrick Pinili via Facebook

This comes after problems with the community quarantine protocol cropped up on the first day of the workweek, such as failed social distancing due to cramped public vehicles, road congestion, and checkpoint issues.

According to a Palace memo issued over the weekend, an enhanced community quarantine suspends mass public transport, and land, air, and sea travel. It also implements a strict home quarantine for every household, regulates provisions for food and essential health services, and heightens the presence of uniformed personnel to enforce quarantine procedures.

Presidential Spokesperson Salvador Panelo earlier said that food and essential needs will be delivered to houses by local government units (LGUs).

“The respective LGUs will have to create a system where food and essential needs will be delivered to the homes of the communities. In other words, we will not allow a rush to get food and supplies because there will be sufficient food and supply,” he added.

Duterte urged the public once again to stay inside their homes.

“Everyone will stay at home, leaving their houses only to buy food, medicine, and other things necessary for survival,” he said.

Private establishments providing basic necessities, such as those related to food and medicine production are allowed to operate with a skeleton force. Among those businesses include public markets, supermarkets, groceries, convenience stores, hospitals, medical clinics, pharmacies and drugstores, food preparation and delivery services, water-refilling stations, and banks.

Malls, meanwhile, have already announced their temporary closure until further notice.

Different cities in Metro Manila have also implemented a curfew from 8 p.m. to 5 a.m. during the quarantine period — among them are Caloocan, Las Piñas, Makati, Mandaluyong, Manila, Muntinlupa, Pasay, Pasig, Quezon City, San Juan, and Taguig.

Also on Wednesday, three senators backed the president’s decision to place the country under a state of calamity.

Senator Grace Poe praised the move as “necessary” to fight and prevent the spread of the disease and to provide assistance to Filipinos.

“The decision is necessary to bolster sweeping relief and emergency efforts to contain the outbreak and at the same time ease the burden of our front liners and ordinary citizens as we come to grips with this public health crisis,” Poe said in a statement.

Sen. Panfilo Lacson noted that the action is “timely and rational.”

He also called on Filipinos to support the measure.

“The government, for all its disaster preparedness and response efforts, cannot overcome the threat by itself. We must all do our part, whether as workers rendering frontline services, scientists developing ways to deal with the problem, or responsible Filipinos giving support to them while showing understanding and cooperation with measures from the national government and local government units (LGUs),” he said in a separate statement.

Sen. Francis Pangilinan said Duterte’s decision is “necessary” so that the PHP16-billion calamity fund of the national government can be released.

He also pointed out that another PHP13 billion of the contingency fund can also be tapped because of this.

Gov’t releases spending plan vs COVID-19 pandemic

A P27.1-billion spending plan was rolled out by the government’s economic team for everyone affected by the enhanced community quarantine enforced in Luzon.

“As directed by President Duterte, the government will provide targeted and direct programs to guarantee that benefits will go to our workers and other affected sectors,” Finance Secretary Carlos Dominguez said in a statement.

“We have enough but limited resources, so our job is to make sure that we have sufficient funds for programs mitigating the adverse effects of COVID-19 on our economy,” he added.

Of the figure, P3.1 billion has been set aside for buying more coronavirus test kits while P14 billion was allocated to the tourism sector.

P3 billion was allocated for scholarship programs of the Technical Education and Skills Development Authority for displaced workers, P2 billion by the Department of Labor and Employment will be allotted to displaced workers, P1.2 billion was also set for Social Security System unemployment benefits, and P1 billion from the Department of Trade and Industry to finance small and medium enterprises affected by COVID-19.

P2.8 billion was also set aside to aid farmers.

Free rides to quarantine-exempt workers

The Philippine Army on Tuesday started offering free transportation to essential workers such as health professionals, food industry personnel and quarantine-exempt workers.

According to Army spokesperson Col. Ramon Zagala, 18 military vehicles from the Army Headquarters and Headquarters Support Group were deployed to operate within Metro Manila and its neighboring areas.

A total of 1,442 individuals have already availed of the free rides as of Wednesday afternoon.

“The Army is extending its capabilities in order to provide the support it can give especially in transporting essential personnel to their place of destination. We still encourage non-essential personnel to cooperate with the government and just stay at home,” said PA chief Lt. Gen. Gilbert I. Gapay.

“We commend our medical professionals, food industry workers, and other essential personnel who provide the needs for our people in this time of medical crisis,” he added.

Gov’t workers to receive full pay during quarantine period

The Department of Budget and Management (DBM), for its part, assured government workers that will receive their salaries during the enhanced community quarantine period.

“All national government employees are receiving their full salaries even if they are working from their homes,” said Budget Secretary Wendel Avisado.

He also said that contractors and casuals covered by job orders will also get paid as scheduled.

Employers, meanwhile, are barred from sacking their workers who fail to report for work during the quarantine period in Luzon.

“Employers should not terminate their employees by reason only of not reporting for work because of the Covid-19 situation,” read the latest bulletin approved by Duterte.

It added that employers should not require their employees to report for work, unless their company is “engaged in basic necessities or services.”

Labor Secretary Silvestre Bello III, for his part, said that workers can file a complaint against their employers before the Department of Labor and Employment (DOLE) if they are punished for failing to go to work.

“Since they are under enhanced community quarantine, then they can really not report. And they will be excused. There will be no basis for them to be disciplined,” he said Tuesday.

Ritchel Mendiola

Ritchel Mendiola is a staff writer and reporter for the Asian Journal. You can reach her at [email protected].

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