President Rodrigo Duterte will announce "major changes" to the country's coronavirus quarantine as early as Thursday, his spokesman said, adding "things will not be the same." Infections are rising, crossing the 85,000-mark, as testing ramps up and more businesses prepare to reopen.
Authorities around the world are striking a balance between reviving economies mired in recession and saving lives. Ahead of the expiry of current quarantine classifications on Friday, the trade department said more businesses would be allowed to reopen from Aug. 1, including gyms and nail spas, as long as they are under the two lowest quarantines -- GCQ and MGCQ.
In his State of the Nation Address on Monday, Duterte asked the Senate and the House to pass a P140-billion stimulus under a new pandemic response law dubbed Bayanihan to Recover as One. He also said that a vaccine was forthcoming and that he sought access to one made by China from Chinese President Xi Jinping.
Presidential Spokesperson Harry Roque said Duterte could announce new quarantines by Thursday "if I am not mistaken." Recommendations are preliminary and some local government units are appealing the proposed changes, he said. " But let’s just say that things will not be the same, there will be major changes in our response to the pandemic."
Here's what we know so far based on official statements and interviews in the run up to the SONA and the President's decision on Thursday:
How is the health system holding up?
Close to being "overwhelmed," according to Health Usec. Rosario Vergeire, as she stressed the importance of staying at home to stop the virus from spreading. As of late Wednesday, the Philippines tallied 85,486 cases with 1,962 deaths and 26,996 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.
Wear a mask when you have to leave the house, the President said. He was wearing one when he alighted from his helicopter at the Batasan for Monday's SONA.
Will there be a new lockdown?
At least two officials, Trade Sec. Ramon Lopez and the chief implementer of the Philippines' COVID response, Sec. Carlito Galvez, had said that future lockdowns would be localized or granular. This means communities with high infection rates, instead of entire cities or regions will be locked down.
A large-scale lockdown risks killing the economy, Lopez said. As of April, the unemployment rate ballooned to a record 17.7 percent and a total 7.3 million Filipinos are jobless.
Will there be mass testing?
Not one test for every individual Filipino. The target is to test 10 million by next year, said Health Sec. Francisco Duque. Testing could be done in pools of 10 to 20, said the Testing Czar, Sec. Vince Dizon. Pool testing will also cut the cost to P300 from P3,000 per person if it were done in batches of 10, according to Roque.
Which businesses can reopen on Aug. 1?
This assumes that the areas are either under GCQ (general community quarantine) or MGCQ (modified general community quarantine), the two lowest classifications in the government's four-step system.
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.