MANILA, Philippines — The government is not ruling out the possibility of imposing a "total lockdown" if the number of people who contracted the coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) continues to rise, Malacañang said Thursday.
While the number of people who recovered from COVID-19 has surpassed the number of deaths, presidential spokesman Harry Roque said the number of infected persons continued to rise even if the Luzon-wide quarantine has been extended by two weeks.
The enhanced community quarantine (ECQ) started last March 17 and was supposed to end on April 13 but President Rodrigo Duterte prolonged the lockdown until April 30 to give the goverment time to conduct more tests.
“We have seen that the number of COVID cases increased, decreased and the number is still on the rise. It's saddening that while we extended the ECQ, we have yet to flatten the curve," Roque said.
Roque said the number of COVID-19 cases went down during the Holy Week but rose again after the holiday, a trend that he said was not surprising given that some areas in Metro Manila are already crowded.
He cited the traffic congestion at the South Luzon Expressway had the crowding in areas where there are markets like Divisoria and Blumentritt.
While he denied claims that the government has decided to implement a total lockdown, Roque said the measure remains an option if the country fails to slow down the spread of the virus.
"Reports that there would be a total lockdown is fake news. But the government considering a total lockdown especially if violators continue to remain on the streets is not fake news," Roque said.
"So let's not prolong the ECQ. Let us fulfill our obligations… There are only a few days left… If we do not flatten the curve, if we don't reduce the cases of COVID-19, of course, it's one of the options being considered," he added.
There are 5,660 persons infected with COVID-19 as of Thursday, according to health department data. The number of recoveries rose to 435 while the number of deaths totaled 362.
Roque did not elaborate what measures would be imposed during a total lockdown. In a recent press briefing, former presidential spokesman Salvador Panelo said a total lockdown would result in the suspension of work and closure of all establishments except retail outlets.
Inter-Agency Task Force (IATF) on the Management of Emerging Infectious Diseases spokesman Karlo Nograles said the higher number of recoveries may have been caused by the improved testing capabilities.
"If our capacity to tests are expanded, more people will be tested positive… Once we learn who are tested positive, we would immediately determine the best medical intervention," Nograles said.
Citing a report by the Research Institute for Tropical Medicine, Nograles said the rate of people who tested positive for COVID-19 has decreased to 15 percent from 17 to 18 percent.
"So, it may be also a function of more testing…then perhaps the number of positive cases also went down. But again, it’s too early to tell," Nograles said.
Roque said Filipinos should be embarrassed that the Philippines has the highest number of COVID-19 cases in Southeast Asia.
“Many violated and perhaps because of that, we are number one in ASEAN (Association of Southeast Nations) in terms of the number of COVID-19 cases. That's embarrassing," the Palace spokesman said.
“Stop violating and stay at home. Filipinos should be ashamed because we are showing them that we lack discipline," he added.
Nograles, however, said Filipinos should not be disheartened by the rise in COVID-19 cases, saying there is no "contest" when it comes to the number of people infected with the virus.
He also declined to comment on the findings of visiting Chinese doctors who said the Philippines is at risk of not being able to cut-off source of the infection because of lack of personal protective equipment and limited bed capacity.
"I was not part of the team who accompanied the Chinese medical team for them to observe what’s happening here in the Philippines. So I think, I must defer the question to the Department of Health," Nograles said.
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