Gyms and nail salons are among a host of businesses that will be allowed to reopen after nearly five months, as the Philippines like the rest of the world balances restarting the economy with saving lives, with COVID-19 cases still rising in the absence of a vaccine. For now, officials are pointing to targeted, instead of large-scale lockdowns.
President Rodrigo Duterte is expected to decide on whether to retain or adjust existing virus quarantines that are effective until July 31. His decision could come as early as Thursday, according to his spokesman. Metro Manila, home to a tenth of the country's 100 million people and which accounts for a third of the economy, is under the second lowest quarantine, general community quarantine (GCQ), along with most of the country. Only one area, Cebu City, is under the second highest, modified enhanced community quarantine (MECQ).
Starting August 1, the following businesses can restart at 30 percent capacity in GCQ areas: gyms, fitness centers, internet shops, tutorial and review centers, and grooming services. In MGCQ areas, the following can resume, also at 30 percent capacity: tattoo and body piercing, live events, entertainment industries, libraries, archives, museums and cultural centers, tourist destinations, and schools for language, driving, dance, acting and voice.
Regardless of quarantines, the following will remain shut: cockpit arenas, beerhouses and similar establishments primarily serving alcoholic drinks, and kid amusement industries. Restaurants in GCQ areas can still serve alcoholic drinks, capped at two servings per customer.
Quarantines are reassesed every 15 days and Metro Manila was almost rolled back to MECQ last July 16 due to rising infections. At that time, Duterte ordered local leaders to slow the spread of COVID-19 to avoid a fresh lockdown. The President also urged the public to wear face masks outside their homes or risk arrest.
On Tuesday, the Department of Health advised the public to stay at home since rising infections could soon "overwhelm" the system. As of late Tuesday, the Philippines tallied 83,673 cases with 1,947 deaths and 26,617 recoveries. Nationwide, 53 percent of intensive care unit beds and 51 percent of isolation beds are being used, DOH data showed. In Metro Manila ICU bed utilization is at 73 percent and at 82 percent for isolation beds.
"Nationally, malapit na po ma-overwhelm ang health system natin. Mapapagod ang ating mga doktor, nurses at mga nag-aalaga sa atin sa ospital kaya nakikiusap kami sa inyo na sumunod tayo sa minimum health standards at kung hindi naman importante, manatili po muna tayo sa kani-kanilang tahanan," Health Usec. Rosario Vergeire said.
(Nationally, our health system is close to being overwhelmed. Our doctors, nurses and hospital staff will get tired that's why we are appealing to you, please follow minimum health standards and if it's not important, stay at home.)
Targeted lockdowns, wider testing
Trade Secretary Ramon Lopez said a fresh, large-scale lockdown could kill the economy. He said lockdowns should be targeted, as is being implemented in large cities such as Manila and Pasig. The chief implementer of Duterte's pandemic response, Sec. Carlito Galvez, said last week that lockdowns would be targeted, as he reiterated the strategy: test, trace, isolate and treat. Testing will be doubled to 50,000 daily, he said.
"Ang mindset ngayon, maibalik nang unti-unti ang pagbukas ng ekonomiya at todo pag-iingat tayo talaga, strict implementation of protocols (The mindset is to slowly reopen the economy very carefully, strict implementation of protocols)," Lopez told Teleradyo.
Eleven weeks of ECQ, the highest quarantine, from mid-May to the end of May tipped the economy into a recession and caused unemployment to shoot up to 17.7 percent, padding the total jobless during the pandemic to 7.3 million.
In his State of the Nation Address on Monday, Duterte appealed to lawmakers for the passage of a second "Bayanihan" or pandemic response law — this time aimed at national recovery. He said a vaccine was "around the corner" and that he appealed to Chinese President Xi Jinping to help make a China-made vaccine available to the Philippines at the earliest possible time.
At an online forum hosted by the Philippine College of Physicians, a doctor at the Philippine General Hospital, John Besa said data showed on the news don't fully capture the situation on the ground.
“I am telling everyone na in the front lines, hindi talaga okay. Sobrang mas malala tayo kumpara noong una (We are worse off now that when we started),” Besa said in a portion of the video aired on GMA Network's 24 Oras.
“We are seeing more severe cases. The reality is lahat ng tao sa frontlines pagod na (The reality is that everyone on the frontlines are tired)," said infectious disease specialist Monica Reyes-Montecillo in the same forum.