The government will reassess the proposed nationwide shift to the modified general community quarantine (MGCQ) before the end of March if the country’s COVID-19 vaccination program starts in a few weeks, Cabinet Secretary Karlo Nograles said Tuesday, February 23.

Cabinet Secretary Karlo Nograles (PCOO / MANILA BULLETIN FILE PHOTO)

The Philippines was scheduled to start inoculating health workers in mid-February as it expected the arrival of some 117,000 doses of Pfizer’s COVID-19 vaccine, but this was delayed because of an issue on indemnification.

“During the entire month of March, makikita natin ang rollout ng vaccination program (we will monitor the rollout of the vaccination program). Before the end of March, we will make our recommendations to the President. Of course, at any given point in time, the President may also give a decision in regards to MGCQ for the entire county,” Nograles said in a virtual media briefing.

He noted that the Cabinet was bound to make assessments and recommendations to the President on a month-to-month basis because this has been the norm for the Inter-agency Task Force (IATF) against COVID-19.

“We will stick to that (month-to-month process),” Nograles said when asked whether the government should set a target date for assessing the country’s preparedness to shift to MGCQ.

The IATF makes recommendations to the President before the first day of the month, the Cabinet secretary explained.

“There is a time for everything,” he quoted President Duterte as saying during the Cabinet meeting on Monday night. This was after the Chief Executive rejected the proposal for the nationwide shift to MGCQ, preferring to do it instead once the vaccination starts.

“The President believes the same prudent approach should likewise apply with regard to the proposed nationwide shift to MGCQ,” Nograles said, referring to the president’s decision to reject the proposed start of face-to-face classes for the same reason.

Although Duterte recognizes the need to restart the economy and “resume the pre-pandemic upward trajectory and sustained growth of the economy,” he noted that this “should be done side by side with measures that will ensure that we do not compromise efforts to contain COVID-19.”

While waiting for the start of the rollout of vaccines, the government will focus on addressing the economic concerns in the country, including unemployment, Nograles said.

The Philippines has not received doses from vaccine makers Pfizer, Moderna, AstraZeneca, and Sinovac despite promising last year that the first doses will arrive in January 2021.

China’s Sinovac was supposed to arrive Tuesday, but the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) only approved its emergency use authorization (EUA) on Monday, though it did not approve its use for health workers because of its “lower efficacy rate of 50.4 percent when used on health care workers exposed to COVID-19.”

Nograles said that the Cabinet will want to see the vaccine rollout first and assess the situation on the ground before it makes recommendations to the President.

“Pag maganda ang rollout, perhaps we can again try to ask the President kung ano yung kanyang magiging sentiments with regard to shifting to MGCQ (If the rollout is seamless, perhaps we can again try to ask the President what his sentiments are with regard to shifting to MGCQ),” he said.

“First thing’s first, let’s do the vaccine rollout. Let’s start inoculating the priority groups. We will consult obviously with the president…if that is enough for his consideration to a shift to MGCQ,” he added.

Source: Manila Bulletin (