No more MECQ? Philippines sets way forward in virus fight with granular lockdowns

Arianne Merez, ABS-CBN News

Posted at Aug 18 2020 02:16 PM

A sign banning entry to non-residents hangs at a compound in Taguig City on August 5, 2020 as Metro Manila and nearby provinces revert to a modified enhanced community quarantine to curb the spread of COVID-19. Jonathan Cellona, ABS-CBN News/File

MANILA - Keeping urban hubs under prolonged strict lockdowns is an unsustainable strategy in the Philippines' fight against the coronavirus pandemic, the chief implementer of the country's response strategy said Tuesday as the government turns to localized quarantines.

Virus restrictions in Metro Manila and nearby economic hubs Bulacan, Cavite, Laguna, and Rizal will be eased to general community quarantine starting Wednesday after a 2-week modified enhanced community quarantine meant to control the surge in COVID-19 cases.

Imposing granular lockdowns is the Philippines' "way forward" in the pandemic fight, COVID-19 policy chief implementer Secretary Carlito Galvez Jr said as he noted that region-wide quarantines are unsustainable.

"MECQ is not a sustainable strategy. Ang pinaka talaga way forward po is granular implementation ng lockdowns (The way forward is granular implementation of lockdowns)," Galvez said during a Palace press briefing.

"We will be moving forward little by little," he added.

Keeping provinces and cities under strict lockdown results in more collateral damage in the livelihood of Filipinos, Galvez said as he urged local governments to be quick in imposing localized lockdowns.

"If the LGU will be able to have that kind of surgical lockdown, mas madaling i-manage dahil maliliit na area po 'yun... 'Yung mga MECQ po on a regional basis ay talagang hindi sustainable economically," Galvez said.

(It will be easier to manage because the areas are smaller.)

Around half of the economy was shut down when the capital region and nearby provinces were placed under MECQ for two weeks, acting Socioeconomic Planning Secretary Karl Chua earlier said.

Lockdowns imposed since March had plunged the economy into recession, 30 years since the Philippines last experienced it.

The government had also revised downward its estimated growth for 2020 to a contraction of as much as 5.5 percent from its earlier forecast of a 3.4 percent drop due to the pandemic. 

President Rodrigo Duterte in a public address Monday night warned Filipinos to be careful as the economy opens up while the threat of the virus remains.

"I said, just be careful. Follow the safeguards. Itong nakalimutan ko. We want to ensure the safety of our people you know. However, some sectors in our economy, especially the MSMEs, are barely surviving," he said.