NEDA proposes lowest form of community quarantine for PH starting March

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Metro Manila (CNN Philippines, February 16) — The National Economic Development Authority has urged President Rodrigo Duterte to place the entire country under the lowest form of community quarantine starting March 1, as it cited the country's need to recover from huge economic losses.

Acting NEDA chief Karl Chua made the proposal during a televised meeting with President Rodrigo Duterte and other government officials on Monday. He noted that strict COVID-19 restrictions implemented since March last year have led to significant decline or total income loss among Filipinos. Further extending the lockdown would only worsen hunger and poverty, Chua added.

"Kailangan po natin mag-shift sana sa lalong madaling panahon sa MGCQ (modified general community quarantine) for the entire Philippines sana starting March 1, 2021, para i-address po 'yung hunger," he said.

[Translation: We need to shift as soon as possible to MGCQ for the entire Philippines, hopefully starting March 1, 2021, in order to address hunger.]

"The main reason is gusto na po natin ma-mitigate or mabawasan 'yung [we want to mitigate or reduce] sickness, hunger, poverty, job and income loss that are arising," he added.

Chua said if needed, the government can instead implement localized lockdowns at the barangay or municipal level to address the local spread of COVID-19.

With proper safeguards in place, the acting NEDA chief also proposed to increase operational public transportation from 50% to 75%. He added that the public transportation system should be complemented with active transport support, such as bike lanes, especially as many have now shifted to riding bicycles to work or when buying basic commodities.

He said the age group allowed to go out should also be expanded even if only gradually from the current 15 to 65 years old, to five to 70 years old. "Pwede natin gawing dahan-dahan [We can do this gradually], in increments of five years, also with appropriate safeguards," Chua said.

Lastly, he asked that the government resume pilot face-to-face classes in low-risk areas.

Recommending the easing of restrictions does not mean putting Filipinos' safety at risk, Chua said. With continued adherence to health guidelines, he maintained the economy could further be reopened to help lift more people out of poverty, while at the same time ensure public health is not compromised.

According to NEDA, the COVID-19 pandemic and related restrictions have brought the country a total income loss of around ₱1.04 trillion in 2020, or a daily average of around ₱2.8 billion.

The Philippines' coronavirus cases have breached 550,000, with over 511,000 recoveries and more than 11,000 deaths. Metro Manila, the Cordillera Administrative Region, Batangas, Tacloban City, Davao City, Davao del Norte, Lanao del Sur, and Iligan City are currently under GCQ. The rest of the country is under the most relaxed MGCQ.