By Tracy Cabrera
MANILA — Local government executives in Metro Manila are set to impose tighter curbs in a effort to stem a fast-spreading coronavirus, particularly with the upcoming holiday festivities the Christmas and New Year.
Government has been criticized for reported changes in its plans to ease restrictions for Christmas and imposing stricter measures on almost 12 million people. Health secretary Francisco Duque III defended the decision, citing evidence showing that complacency is causing the spiraling of cases in the metropolis.
Duque suggests tougher health safety protocols—which require about a third of the population to stay at home except for essential reasons such as work—and this may remain in place until vaccinations become available by mid-2021.
“We’ve got a long way to go to sort this,” government health experts pointed out.
“Essentially we’ve got to get that vaccine rolled out to keep people safe. Given how much faster the virus spreads, it’s going to be very difficult to keep it under control until we have the vaccine rolled out,” they added.
The country may begin inoculating Filipinos possibly using the vaccine developed by Pfizer and BioNTech by July next year.
The number of cases in the archipelago has surged to more than 460,000 as of this writing and it recorded 8,947 deaths.
Opposition senators disclosed that while they supported the new measures, “yet again the health secretary waited until the 11th hour to take this decision.
“The alarm bells have been ringing for weeks but the prime minister chose to ignore them . . . He told the country to go ahead and have a merry little Christmas . . . and yet three days later he tells millions of families to rip up those plans,” they said, referring to comments Duque made recently.
Soon after the Inter-Agency Task Force for the Management of Emerging Infectious Diseases (IATF-MEID) announced the changes, some in Metro Manila headed for train stations and ports to try to travel to see relatives over Christmas, and there were scenes of crowding—something Duque called “totally irresponsible.”
Transportation secretary Arthur Tugade called on people under the new restrictions not to travel and said more transport police were being deployed to ensure that “only those who need to take essential journeys can travel safely.”
In Quezon City, the Sangguniang Panglungsod passed an ordinance banning minors from stepping out of their houses.
Under the Child Protection Hours ordinance, individuals under 18 must remain at home 24 hours a day, seven days a week. They are prohibited from loitering in public areas and even commercial establishments such as malls and theaters, even if they are accompanied by a guardian. But the ordinance cited exemptions, such as in times of emergency or calamity.
Minors are also allowed to go to medical and dental appointments if accompanied by a guardian. The parents or guardian of a minor violating the ordinance will be fined PhP300, PhP500 and PhP1,000 for the first, second and third offenses, respectively. Commercial establishments will likewise be fined and, on the third offense, face business permit revocation.