With daily cases high and vaccines yet to arrive, VP questions easing quarantine

February 22, 2021

MANILA, Philippines — A nationwide shift to the most lenient quarantine status might prioritize the economy over public health, Vice President Leni Robredo said Sunday, saying daily cases are still high and vaccination against COVID-19 has yet to start.

Cabinet officials are meeting Monday to consider a nationwide shift to Modified General Community Quarantine in March, a move proposed by the National Economic and Development Authority and already approved by the policy-making Inter-Agency Task Force on the Management of Emerging Infectious Diseases. 

Metro Manila mayors have also agreed to support the transition to MGCQ, citing the need to address economic losses from pandemic-related curbs.

On her weekly radio program, Robredo questioned the wisdom of the move, citing risks.

"There's no problem in shifting to MGCQ if we have basis," she said in Filipino over DZXL. "But if we look at our numbers, the transmission is still high and we still don't have the vaccines."

RELATED: Ending the year in quarantine: How COVID-19 curbs in the Philippines evolved

Health officials reported 2,240 additional cases on Saturday afternoon, bringing the country's overall count to nearly 560,000, along with 239 new deaths, the highest so far since September 2020.

The OCTA Research team has warned too that the capital region would be under a "constant" threat of surge in infections if it transitions to MGCQ.

Despite earlier government pronouncements that the first doses of vaccines would be in the Philippines by mid-February, none have arrived so far.

"We keep saying it's because of the economy but that would be a mistake because we separate the economy from health," the vice president said. "Even if we reopen the economy more, if people are afraid, it would still be the same."

Instead, Robredo said, efforts should be directed to controlling the spread of the virus as well as on making sure that the vaccines arrive sooner.

President Rodrigo Duterte first placed the Philippines under hard lockdowns in March 2020, with the community quarantine, considered as the world's longest, stretching to until this year as the country continues to report more than a thousand cases a day.  

Restrictions had been eased beginning June of last year, but Metro Manila remained under GCQ along with other select areas. While Duterte usually follows IATF recommendations, he has also reversed them days after they were announced.

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