President Rodrigo Duterte has ordered the shift to a more relaxed community quarantine starting June 1 for Metro Manila, the country’s epicenter for the coronavirus pandemic.
In his address to the nation Thursday evening, Duterte adopted the recommendation of the Inter-Agency Task Force (IATF) on the Management of Emerging Infectious Diseases for the lifting of the modified enhanced community quarantine (MECQ).
IATF Resolution No.40. recommended that the National Capital Region, now categorized as a “high-to-moderate-risk area,” be placed under General Community Quarantine beginning June 1 to June 15, but subject to some conditions and limitations to be imposed by local officials.
READ: NCR braces for GCQ without buses, jeepneys
Under the GCQ, local government units will be allowed to impose a lockdown on specific barangays if needed, particularly “problematic” areas with high number of COVID-19 cases.
The IATF resolution also declared a modified general community quarantine (MGCQ) in areas with moderate risk of infection namely Cagayan Valley (Region 2); Central Luzon (Region 3); Calabarzon (Region 4-A); Cordillera Administrative Region (CAR); Central Visayas (Region 7) except Cebu City; Zamboanga Peninsula (Region 9); Davao Region (Region 11); and Caraga (Region 13), Ilocos (Region 1); Mimaropa (Region 4-B); Bicol (Region 5); Western Visayas (Region 6); Eastern Visayas (Region 8); Northern Mindanao (Region 10); Soccsksargen (Region 12); and Bangsamoro Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (Barmm). These areas are currently placed under a GCQ.
Minimum health standards musts still be observed in areas under the MGCQ or GCQ.
Presidential spokesman Harry Roque said that in areas under the GCQ, selected manufacturing and processing plants will be allowed to operate with a maximum of 50 percent of their workforce.
The mode of transportation in Metro Manila, however, will be limited to company-provided shuttle services, point-to-point vehicles, taxis, Transport Network Vehicle Services, and tricycles.
READ: NCR mayors push for GCQ after May 31
He said mass transportation by way of city trains will be allowed on a limited basis.
Residents of GCQ areas will be allowed to go out of their residence except for those aged below 21 and those 60 and older to limit infections. Mass gathering activities remain prohibited.
Roque said the IATF has also proposed a general concept of identifying zones with COVID-19 cases.
A “critical zone” refers to an area with more than 20 cases; a “containment zone” means that there are between one and 19 cases in the area; a “buffer zone” refers to an area with no cases but one that is contiguous with localities with cases; and “outside of buffer zone” refers to areas outside of the buffer zones without confirmed cases.
With no vaccine yet, the number of COVID-19 cases in Metro Manila is expected to rise once the shift to a GCQ gets underway, Roque said.
He advised the public to observe physical distancing and to always wear a face mask in public places to avoid the spread of the contagious disease.
More outdoor activities will be allowed once the National Capital Region, the country’s economic center, shifts to GCQ next week, he said.
“To make sure that the public would follow the guidelines under the new normal, the government is increasing fines for people who breach the new guidance, with the new penalties ranging from P1,000 to P10,000 with imprisonment,” he said.
“If many of us remain stubborn, many would catch COVID-19. We will be like other countries which saw an increase in COVID-19 cases after relaxing restrictions because people did not comply with health standards,” he added.
READ: ‘Quarantine eased in June’
Roque warned that should this happen, the President would have no choice but to return stricter levels of quarantine in Metro Manila.
Roque said the government is working to avoid a second wave of infections because the Philippines has limited capacity in hospitals.
He said Metro Manila has a total bed capacity of only 13,457, a bed capacity of only 9,468 for isolation, 1,963 ventilators, 1,303 intensive care unit beds and 2,686 ward beds.
He warned that hospitals could be overwhelmed if the country experiences a huge increase in infections.
Interior Secretary Eduardo Año said traveling from one GCQ area to another would still be limited to availing of essential goods and services, but said quarantine passes would no longer be needed.
READ: Mayors: NCR on GCQ by June 1
He said checkpoints would ensure travelers were going out to procure the necessary goods and services.
Año said buses operating at 50 percent capacity would be allowed to operate in areas under general community quarantine.
The Department of Transportation said Thursday it would take the opportunity to not only address the risks of COVID-19 transmission, but also to modernize the country’s transport system.
In a news release, the DOTr said this will involve technology-driven, integrated, and sustainable initiatives that will make road transport more efficient, reliable, environment-friendly and safe.
The department said this would entail:
• Consolidation of operators and rationalization of routes;
• Dedicated lanes for public transport;
• Online transactions and online payments;
• GPS monitoring of fleet;
• Automatic fare collection systems in public transport
• Online seat booking;
• E-toll collection;
• Requirement of shuttle services for employees and school buse for students; and
• Use of bicycles and other non-motorized transport;
Earlier, experts from the University of the Philippines called on the government to extend the modified enhanced community quarantine in Metro Manila and other high-risk areas to further prevent the spread of COVID-19.
“We have not yet seen the flattening of the curve in the NCR and Davao City,” Dr. Guido David of the UP-Diliman Institute of Mathematics told radio dzMM.
“If health is the only consideration based on the data we see, we should remain under the MECQ not only in the NCR but also in high-risk areas,” Dr. Ranjit Rye of the UP-Diliman Political Science Department.
READ: New wave of cases feared
David said the success of the MECQ depends on the cooperation of the people.
House Deputy Majority Leader and Bagong Henerasyon Rep. Bernadette Herrera, meanwhile, pushed for rapid COVID-19 testing for workers who will go back to work by June 1.
Herrera announced that her group and Rotary International District 3780 are working together to produce a mobile rapid screening facility that would cater to businesses wanting to have their workers tested for COVID-19.
She said they plan to roll out an initial of five units of mobile COVID-19 testing trucks that can administer and process rapid antibody tests.
Also on Thursday, Cagayan de Oro City Rep. Rufus Rodriguez urged Executive Secretary Salvador Medialdea to include poor families in provinces under general community quarantine (GCQ) in the second tranche of the social amelioration program (SAP).
Rodriguez made the appeal after the executive secretary issued a memorandum Friday limiting the second installment of SAP financial assistance to 12 million families in enhanced community quarantine (ECQ) and modified ECQ areas, plus 5 million households that did not receive aid last month.
“I am asking ES Medialdea to reconsider his decision and to already include the low income households in the GCQ areas in the second tranche this month,” Rodriguez said.
He said it is clear in the Bayanihan to Heal as One Law, or Republic Act 11469, that 18 million low-income families would receive SAP aid ranging from P5,000 to P8,000 for two months–last month and this month.
Rodriguez said in passing the law, Congress empowered President Duterte to realign the 2020 budget to generate the funding requirement for SAP.
READ: Palace claims PH meets goal of 30,000 daily testing capacity
“They don’t need to go back to Congress,” he added.
He pointed out that if the second tranche of SAP would be limited to ECQ and modified ECQ areas, only poor families in Metro Manila, some Luzon provinces and two cities in Cebu would receive aid.
“The poor in most provinces, who, like those in Metro Manila, were without jobs and income during the two-month ECQ, would be excluded. I think that is not the intention of the President and Congress,” he said.
The government is now preparing for the distribution of SAP aid for this month.