Metro Manila mayors want to extend the general community quarantine (GCQ) in the country’s capital region as COVID-19 remains a threat, Interior Secretary Eduardo Año said Monday, short of saying the extension would be imposed only for next month or until December 31.
Speaking to Teleradyo, the Interior chief said Metro Manila mayors were also mulling further easing of business and travel to revive the pandemic-battered economy.
Meanwhile, the government is urging businesses to create staggered work shifts for their workers to comply with physical distancing measures as curfew hours were eased in Metro Manila to gradually reopen the economy amid the continuing threat of coronavirus 2019.
In Joint Advisory 20-01 dated October 22 the interior, labor, and trade departments said this was to allow more workers and buyers to contribute to the economy.
“As we gradually re-open the economy in increments mindful of the current hospital capacity threshold, local government units, where applicable, are enjoined to ease curfew hours, e.g. from 12 midnight up to 4:00 a.m. The curfew implementation shall be guided by the respective local ordinance," the joint document read.
In a related development, the Joint Task Force COVID Shield, which serves as the quarantine enforcement arm of the coronavirus task force, announced it would be ordering more police on the streets of cities and towns as well as in business districts with the easing of quarantine restrictions.
Last week, Malacañang allowed motorcycle taxis to operate as the government sought to raise the capacity of the mass transport system.
Año said: “We’ve noticed our citizens are becoming cautious. Despite that more transport modes have resumed, they don’t go out as much.
“It’s because the threat persists since we haven’t flattened the curve. So anytime you can get infected.”
However, Año didn’t say if the strict lockdown will be imposed only for next month or until the end of the year.
Metro Manila, Bacolod, Tacloban, Iloilo City, Batangas and Iligan are under GCQ until Oct. 31 while the rest of the country were placed under modified general community quarantine (MGCQ).
The Philippines employs a 4-level community quarantine scheme ranging from the strictest enhanced community quarantine to the most relaxed modified general community quarantine (MGCQ).
The quarantine level dictates the type of business activities allowed in a certain area, as well as travel restrictions.
“While still encouraging work-from-home arrangements and other flexible workplace plans, business establishments are enjoined to adopt multiple and staggered work shifts (workers are to be allowed to adopt work shift schedule starting at e.g., 7 a.m., 8 a.m., 9 a.m., and so on) to allow more workers to report to work but still maintaining the physical distancing requirements, to spread out the congestion on our roads, and to ease the demand for public transportation," the DILG-DTI-DOLE advisory also said.
Labor Secretary Silvestre Bello III said this move would bring back more jobs in a safe manner, and the easing of curfews would generate additional economic activities in the evening that would improve the income of workers.
Bello said the coronavirus crisis had also so far displaced around 3.5 million workers, including 1.9 million who were temporarily laid off while businesses were shuttered at the height of lockdowns from March to June.
Meanwhile, Trade Secretary Ramon Lopez said more sectors were also allowed to operate within half to full capacity while mall-wide sales were allowed and restrictions on cooler temperatures, free WiFi and longer operating hours were also eased.
The IATF recommended a shorter and later curfew hours to allow workers to travel at ease.
malls and other establishments that provide essential goods and services should also extend their operating hours to complement the staggered shifts.
The public is urged to strictly follow minimum health standards such as the proper wearing of face masks and face shields, no talking and eating in public transportation and crowded areas, and observing physical distancing.
“The transmission of the virus will definitely slow down even if we open more of the economy. Thus, this will allow more people to go back to work and generate more income, and bring back our strong momentum in reducing poverty and malnutrition," Lopez said.
Meanwhile, the Bureau of Immigration will no longer require Filipino travelers going abroad to undergo antigen tests after the Inter-Agency Task Force for the Management of Emerging Infectious Diseases lifted the requirement.
IATF task force spokesperson Harry Roque said they amended Resolution 79, which requires travelers to present a negative antigen test result as a pre-boarding requirement.
They previously required all outbound travelers to present antigen test results unless the destination requires a negative RT-PCR result.
However, the BI said that should the country of destination require a negative Covid-19 test certificate, the same must be prepared.
BI Commissioner Jaime Morente clarified that the other requirements set by the IATF for outbound travel are still in place such as a round trip ticket for those who will be leaving under a tourist visa.
“Travelers will likewise be required to sign a declaration acknowledging the risks of traveling, which will be given to them by the airline upon check-in,” he added.
The BI also reported that the number of Filipino travelers under a tourist visa “did not increase significantly despite the policy change”.
Meanwhile, IATF announced that starting November 1, foreign nationals with investors visas and those visas issued by the Aurora Pacific Economic Zone and Freeport Authority, as well as the Subic Bay Metropolitan Authority will be allowed to enter the country.
Previously only Filipinos, their spouse and minor children, foreign children with special needs of Filipinos, foreign parents of minor Filipinos, and foreign parents of Filipino children with special needs were allowed to enter the country.
Those who are eligible to enter under a tourist status are still required to secure an entry visa from Philippine embassies or consulates, prior to arrival.
Apart from those mentioned, accredited foreign government and international organization officials and their dependents, foreign airline crewmembers, foreign seafarers with 9(c) visas, and foreigners with long-term visas are allowed.
BI Port Operations Chief Atty. Candy Tan added that both departing and arriving travelers are still required to undergo regular immigration inspection, and present documents needed for their travel.
“Arriving passengers are also required to have a pre-booked accredited quarantine facility before they arrive, and are still subject to the maximum capacity of inbound passengers set by airport authorities,” said Tan.
“After immigration inspection, arriving passengers will proceed to the one stop shop at our airports, where they will be tested and referred to their assigned quarantine facility,” she added.
Meanwhile, cemetery administrators have reminded the public that only those aged 15 to 65 are allowed inside cemeteries, in line with guidelines imposed by the inter-agency task force for the management of emerging infectious diseases.
Manila South Cemetery administration director Raffy Mendez said that children, those older than 65, and those pregnant are not allowed inside the cemetery, and these visitors would be told to head back home should they insist on entering.
Cemeteries are imposing strict health measures to curb the spread of COVID-19, such as the mandatory use of face masks and face shields, and physical distancing among individuals.
Earlier this month, the IATF-EID allowed persons aged 15 to 65 to go out of their homes as the government seeks to restart the economy and boost consumer spending amid the COVID-19 pandemic.
According to Metro Manila Council chairman and Parañaque mayor Edwin Olivarez, cemeteries would only be allowed to fill up to 30 percent of their capacity before and after Undas this year, with all cemeteries in Metro Manila -- public and private -- closed from October 31 to November 3.