Gov’t think tank recommends gradual relaxation of quarantine restrictions after Luzon lockdown

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Metro Manila (CNN Philippines, April 15) — A government think tank is recommending the gradual relaxation of quarantine restrictions after the Luzon-wide enhanced community quarantine to restart economic activity, coupled with public health measures to detect and contain COVID-19.

In a study published early this month, the Philippine Institute for Development Studies recommended a “gradual and calibrated transition … that combines relaxation of economic restriction while controlling the spread of the virus.”

This includes the resumption of economic activity “wherever it is safe and possible to allow the production of goods and services to be consumed in other areas” and the partial operation of public transportation, subject to strict social distancing guidelines.

The think tank said the government should couple with efforts to increase the capacity to detect and isolate COVID-19 patients and identify their close contacts, protect high-risk groups, continue imposing physical distancing measures, and treat as many patients as possible.

It added that the government should continue scaling up testing for COVID-19 while rapidly increasing capabilities for contact tracing.

It also said that the government should decongest health facilities by creating more isolation and quarantine sites elsewhere for patients with mild symptoms or those suspected of infection.

In its modelling, the think tank found that if the government is able to isolate around 70 percent of patients who show COVID-19 symptoms and ramps up testing, the think tank predicts that the disease would only peak in May 2021 with 904,000 cases, even if the Luzon-wide enhanced community quarantine is partially lifted.

However, it may peak as early as August of this year with 18.9 million cases if no actions are taken to contain the virus, which may deal a bigger blow to the economy.

“In a no-intervention scenario … the Philippines may lose about P2 trillion in foregone gross value added as a result of weaker household demand as more workers are unemployed for extended periods of time,” the think tank warned.

But still, at the best case, the think tank said the COVID-19 crisis can deal a ₱276.3-billion loss to the economy.

The Inter-Agency Task Force for the Management of Emerging Infectious Diseases said Tuesday it was discussing what measures it will take and implement ‪after April 30‬, the expected end-date of the enhanced community quarantine over Luzon.

Cabinet Secretary Karlo Nograles, the task force’s spokesperson, said they will identify what industries could be allowed to operate or who among the labor force could get back to work.

The private sector has been calling for a "modified" quarantine where barangays or areas with limited infections can be allowed to return to work, rather than the current stringent lockdown.

That suggestion has been taken up with President Rodrigo Duterte, Philippine Chamber of Commerce and Industry president emeritus George Barcelon said.

As of March 15, a total of 5,453 people have contracted COVID-19 in the Philippines. Of them, 353 have died and 349 have recovered.