Metro Manila mayors recommend shift to MGCQ by March

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Metro Manila (CNN Philippines, February 18) — Despite several warnings from health experts, Metro Manila could shift to the most relaxed form of community quarantine by March now that mayors have agreed to the proposal of economic leaders.

Navotas Mayor Toby Tiangco on Thurday said the 17 mayors were split during their voting, but those in favor won by one vote, 9-8, for the National Capital Region to shift from general community quarantine to modified GCQ.

Tiangco said he voted against the easing of restrictions. Other mayors who voted to keep NCR under GCQ are Marikina City Mayor Marcy Teodoro, Muntinlupa City Mayor Jaime Fresnedi, San Juan City Mayor Francis Zamora, and Valenzuela City Mayor Rex Gatchalian.

Manila Mayor Isko Moreno, Makati City Mayor Abigail Binay, and Mandaluyong City Mayor Menchie Abalos voted in favor of shifting to MGCQ, while Quezon City Mayor Joy Belmonte and Pateros Mayor Miguel Ponce III did not disclose their votes.

CNN Philippines is still waiting for the response of other NCR mayors on how they voted.

The National Economic and Development Authority recommended to President Rodrigo Duterte to place the entire country under MGCQ next month. The different levels of quarantine classification enforced per area depend on their COVID-19 cases and the capability of health facilities to tend to patients. Duterte has yet to announce the quarantine status for March.

The proposal of acting Socioeconomic Planning Secretary Karl Chua on Monday was quickly met with warnings from the OCTA Research group. It said it will be dangerous since COVID-19 and UK variant cases are increasing in some parts of the country. OCTA fellow Ranjit Rye also pointed out that the country has not yet even started vaccinating medical frontliners.

OCTA also warned that if Metro Manila moves to MGCQ, it will lead to a surge of up to 2,400 new cases per day by March 26, similar to the daily tally when the region was placed under modified enhanced community quarantine in August 2020 due to dwindling healthcare utilization.

Dr. Rabindra Abeyasinghe, World Health Organization representative to the Philippines, said the cases in Metro Manila have not flattened yet so it is best to keep restrictions in place.

"We still need to be conscious that there is a relatively high level of transmission in the community," he said in a media briefing.

Infectious disease expert Dr. Rontgene Solante also said it's still too early to ease quarantine restrictions, citing the presence of new COVID-19 variants. He suggested it would be better to wait for another month before transitioning to MGCQ.

Solante told CNN Philippines' News.PH that local government officials should also observe first the behavior of people, once high-risk establishments like cinemas and gaming arcades reopen.

Although Metro Manila is recording a negative growth rate, eight out of 17 cities are showing increased cases, according to the Health Department.

Benhur Abalos, chairman of the Metropolitan Manila Development Authority and who attended the meeting of the mayors, said the local chief executives agreed to ease to MGCQ. However, he said the mayors kept their stance against further lowering of the ages allowed to leave their homes. He said those under 15 and over 65 are still prohibited from going out for leisure.

NEDA also recommended to allow people aged five to 70 to go out for non-essential trips, increase public transportation operations from 50% to 70%, and resume pilot face-to-face classes in low-risk areas. Chua said the country needs to recover from huge economic losses.