MANILA, Philippines — President Rodrigo Duterte and his Cabinet are expected to discuss Monday the recommendation of Metro Manila mayors to place the capital region under the most lenient quarantine status, a proposal opposed by some health experts who believe it could lead to spikes in COVID-19 infections.
Metro Manila mayors have proposed the easing of the capital region's classification from general community quarantine to the most relaxed Modified General Community Quarantine (MGCQ) starting next month to further reopen the economy and address income losses caused by lockdowns.
The decision, which won by just a single vote, 9-8, has raised concerns, with experts from the OCTA Research Group predicting that cases in Metro Manila may hit 2,400 per day by March 26 if restrictions are eased.
Presidential spokesman Harry Roque confirmed in a text message on Sunday that the proposal to relax Metro Manila's quarantine status is one of the items in the agenda the Cabinet meeting. However, it remains unsure if President Duterte will announce his decision on the proposal in his weekly late-night address.
"Maybe no," Roque said.
Metro Manila, the economic center of the Philippines and home to more than 12 million people, remains the epicenter of the COVID-19 pandemic in the country with more than 225,000 cases. The region accounts for more than a third of about 559,000 infections in the Philippines.
The National Economic and Development Authority (NEDA) has proposed placing the entire Philippines under MGCQ, citing the need to restore jobs and address the hunger caused by the disruption of business activities. Quarantine restrictions have resulted in a total income loss of P1.04 trillion or P2.8 billion per day, NEDA added.
Acting NEDA chief Karl Kendrick Chua said when he made the proposal to Duterte last Monday that the Inter-Agency Task Force on the Management of Emerging Infectious Diseases had already approved it.
Roque has thanked Metro Manila mayors for recommending the downgrading of Metro Manila's status to MGCQ, saying many are dying or are going hungry because of prolonged lockdowns. Economic managers have also given assurances that health measures would continue to be implemented even if quarantine restrictions are relaxed.
Also to be discussed during the Cabinet meeting is NEDA's proposal to hold pilot face-to-face classes in low-risk areas and places where there are no COVID-19 transmissions. The implementation of pilot in-person classes was supposed to start last month but Duterte cancelled it because of the risks posed by a more infectious COVID-19 variant.