MANILA, Philippines — It is too early to say whether the quarantine classification of ‘National Capital Region (NCR) Plus’ can be relaxed, the government’s pandemic task force said Sunday, as it clarified that a government takeover of hotels to increase COVID-19 health facilities is the “last resort.”
Soaring COVID-19 infections prompted the government to place Metro Manila, Bulacan, Cavite, Laguna, and Rizal — collectively known as NCR Plus — under the strictest Enhanced Community Quarantine (ECQ) from March 29 to April 11.
The classification was downgraded to the more relaxed Modified Enhanced Community Quarantine (MECQ) last April 12 as more hospitals agreed to allocate more beds to COVID-19 patients. Officials have said a shift to a more lenient general community quarantine (GCQ) — a classification where about half of industries can operate — is possible if the COVID-19 numbers improve.
“It is too early (to say whether the NCR Plus would be placed under GCQ). You know our process. The IATF (Inter-Agency Task Force for the Management of Emerging Infectious Diseases) makes the assessment during the last of the month to check the latest numbers and to come up with a good assessment,” Cabinet Secretary Karlo Nograles, IATF co-chairman, told radio station dzBB.
“We will have a discussion on what to recommend to the president in the last week of April. That being said, what do we need to do? Right now, our focus is to increase our bed capacities,” he added.
Last week, Health Undersecretary Leopoldo Vega said the government’s strategy to address the surge in pandemic infections involves expanding the country’s healthcare capacity rather than shutting down the economy.
More than 3,000 beds have been added to the NCR Plus healthcare capacity during the two-week imposition of ECQ, officials have reported. The higher bed capacity has been attributed to President Duterte’s order for the Philippine Health Insurance Corp. (PhilHealth) to settle the unpaid claims of hospitals.
Last Thursday, Duterte said the government can take over the operations of hotels and warehouses containing medicines if the government is “pushed to the wall” but admitted that the measures are not desirable in a democratic state.
Nograles said a government takeover of private facilities is allowed under existing laws but the government remains optimistic that it can increase COVID-19 treatment and isolation centers without doing so.
“That (takeover) is already the last resort. That will be the last (measure to be undertaken) when necessary because we are in a state of public health emergency. But that’s really, really, really last resort,” the cabinet official said.
Some hotels, like the one presidential spokesperson Harry Roque stayed in in March when he tested positive for COVID-19, are already being used as isolation and quarantine facilities.
“Now, our focus is to build up our capacities. We’re confident that we’ll be able to do it. It really needs coordination with the private sector. That’s why the order for PhilHealth to already start paying is important because it will provide new capital to hospitals to increase their ICU (intensive care unit) beds and their bed capacity,” Nograles added.
Nograles also assured the public that the government is continuously working to ensure that there are enough health personnel that would take care of patients.
“We’re trying to source also hospital personnel from other areas with low COVID cases temporarily, just to beef up our healthcare personnel here in NCR Plus. That being said, the hiring of healthcare personnel by the Department of Health is continuous,” he said.
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