The Philippine Star

Metro mayors, DOH: No minors in malls

- By SHEILA CRISOSTOMO – With Marc Jayson Cayabyab, Emmanuel Tupas, Neil Jayson Servallos, Ralph Edwin Villanueva

Minors will remain banned from malls in Metro Manila.

Mayors of the National Capital Region reached this decision during an emergency meeting Tuesday night, hours after the Department of the Interior and Local Government ( DILG) announced that minors might soon be allowed in NCR malls if accompanie­d by adults.

Department of Health ( DOH) Secretary Francisco Duque III yesterday also opposed moves to allow children to go out, saying this would put them at risk of infection.

“We stand by our position. As much as possible, we discourage that,” Duque told a press briefing.

The health chief cautioned that three to five percent of total COVID cases in the country are children, “so they are not exempted from the virus.”

Children may not manifest severe symptoms, but they can spread the virus to others, according to Duque. This may trigger a spike in COVID-19 cases in the country.

“Don’t let the children go out but, of course, the decision is up to the local government units (LGUs),” Duque said.

Last Tuesday, the DILG announced that children may soon be allowed inside malls if accompanie­d by parents, even in areas under general community quarantine, to stimulate business.

The DILG clarified, however, that this would happen only if it is permitted by concerned LGUs.

The relaxation of the restrictio­n came amid the warning of the DOH and other experts of a possible spike in cases this Christmas season.

Factors to consider

For a pediatric infectious disease expert from the Health Profession­als Alliance Against COVID-19 (HPAAC), many factors should be considered before allowing children to go out.

In an interview with “The Chiefs” aired on One News/TV5 last Tuesday night, HPAAC member Anna Lisa Ong-Lim maintained that balancing should be done before easing further the age in quarantine restrictio­ns.

While with influenza, children are recognized to be the “driver of transmissi­on,” it is different when it comes to COVID-19, according to Lim.

“In COVID-19 it’s the other way around. Most likely they will be the ones to be infected,” she said.

One possible reason that Lim cited is the fact that the virus “infects kids less frequently and less severely, therefore, if they are not severely ill, their chance of infecting others is low.”

“But we are not saying it is impossible for them to spread the disease. I think I wanted to get away from the concept that they are super spreaders because there is no evidence that they are all that,” she said.

Before easing up the ban on children, one should consider “the reason for traveling, where they are going and how they will reach their destinatio­n,” Lim advised.

Not allowed

Minors are still not allowed to loiter in malls even when accompanie­d by their parents in Metro Manila, mayors clarified yesterday, putting an end to the confusion following reports of easing the age-based quarantine restrictio­ns.

At a virtual press briefing yesterday, Metropolit­an Manila Developmen­t Authority (MMDA) general manager Jojo Garcia clarified reports that those below 18 years old may now join their parents in going to malls this Christmas season.

Reports quoted Interior Secretary Eduardo Año as saying that minors may now go to malls as long as with parental guidance. Año is vice chair of the Inter-Agency Task Force for the Management of Emerging Infectious Diseases (IATF).

In an emergency meeting Tuesday night, however, Metro Manila mayors raised concerns that children, generally with stronger resistance, could be super spreaders of the virus without showing symptoms, posing risks to the more vulnerable elderly.

The mayors said they wanted to ask the opinion of the Philippine Pediatric Society (PPS) first before voting on whether or not to allow minors inside malls, according to Garcia.

This latest proposal easing age- based restrictio­ns will have to be implemente­d through an ordinance passed by city councils and signed by the mayor.

“This means that in Metro Manila, it will remain on status quo. Only 18-65 years old are allowed outside on essential services,” Garcia said, noting that this age bracket is part of the employed workforce that contribute­s to the economy.

On the other hand, minors or those aged 17 and below are usually outside due to leisure and have no business going outside because there are no face-to-face classes, the MMDA executive added.

“We are not the experts here. We can’t risk the lives of the minors. Before we make a decision, we asked for the opinion of the experts first,” he said, noting that the PPS will just present the facts to allow the mayors to make an informed decision.

The medical organizati­on, however, will not be asked to make a stand on the proposal.

While the rest of the country allows 15- 65- year- olds to go outside for essential services based on latest IATF guidelines, Metro Manila mayors had asked to slightly tighten the allowed age bracket to 18-65, citing local autonomy.

Garcia said Metro Manila mayors have also asked the IATF to refine its definition on what constitute­s “essential” travel or service, following observatio­ns that even the elderly go to dine-in eateries despite being vulnerable to the disease.

‘Cancel events, avoid crowds’

In another developmen­t, the DILG yesterday advised government officials and employees to cancel events involving massive crowds if violating social distancing protocols would be inevitable and if crowds would be uncontroll­able.

“And if there is a probable event that you’re going to attend and you cannot ensure proper distancing, it would be best to just cancel the event instead of having the government criticized for not following protocols that it enacted,” DILG spokesman Jonathan Malaya said at a press conference.

The call came as dozens of government officials and employees have defied health protocols since the imposition of community quarantine­s in March.

Most recently, mobs of angry netizens called for presidenti­al spokesman Harry Roque to be held accountabl­e for addressing a large crowd on Bantayan Island in Cebu during the opening of its airport, an event that Roque said he had no control over as it was organized by the local government.

Sen. Manny Pacquiao also received backlash for his wife Jinkee’s Instagram stories showing the senator addressing a crowd in Batangas that went viral.

The DILG, faced once more with questions about what to do about these officials, called on public officials to take the lead in following safety protocols against the spread of COVID.

Malaya said the public could not be expected to follow health protocols if government officials themselves are defying them.

‘Speak with one voice’

Meanwhile, former vice president Jejomar Binay yesterday urged government officials to “learn to speak with one voice” amid contradict­ing statements on new lockdownre­lated policies.

Binay’s statement came a day after supposed contradict­ing pronouncem­ents regarding allowing minors to enter malls.

“We have been on lockdown for nine months. You would think that by now, government officials would have figured out how to speak with one voice, but until now, that is not the case,” he said in mixed English and Filipino.

Binay, a former Makati City mayor, added that government officials should first meet before making official pronouncem­ents; if they could not meet, at least they could use technology, like an online group chat, to iron out such decisions.

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