Metro Manila and four other provinces will be placed under a general community quarantine (GCQ) with heightened restrictions, Malacanang said Friday.
Presidential spokesman Harry Roque made this announcement after the Department of Health (DOH) confirmed the local transmission of the highly contagious Delta variant of COVID-19.
Roque said President Rodrigo Duterte approved the recommendation of the Inter-Agency Task Force for the Management of Emerging Infectious Diseases’ (IATF) to place Metro Manila, Ilocos Norte, Ilocos Sur, Davao de Oro, and Davao del Norte under a more restrictive GCQ from July 23 to 31.
Before the announcement, Metro Manila was under the regular GCQ. Ilocos Norte and Ilocos Sur used to be under a modified GCQ, while Davao de Oro and Davao del Norte were under a modified enhanced community quarantine.
In a statement, Roque said “the same IATF rules would be observed when NCR was previously under GCQ with heightened restrictions.”
Metro Manila, which was placed under GCQ “with some restrictions” from July 1 to 15, was initially put under regular GCQ from July 16 to 31.
Roque also said that children 5 years old and above will not be allowed outdoors in these areas placed under GCQ with heightened restrictions.
But children as young as 5 years old but living in areas under GCQ and MGCQ may still go to outdoor spaces like parks, playgrounds, beaches, biking, and hiking trails, outdoor tourist sites, and attractions, outdoor non-contact sports courts and venues, and al-fresco dining establishments.
The move to send millions of children back into lockdown came as hospitals prepared for a surge in coronavirus cases, fueled by the Delta variant that is ravaging neighboring countries.
Nearly half of the 47 cases of the more virulent strain detected so far were locally acquired, the Health department said, raising fears of a sharp uptick in infections that have topped 1.5 million since the start of the pandemic.
“The Delta variant is more infectious and deadly,” Roque said as he announced tougher rules for the National Capital Region and four provinces where cases have spiked.
Along with tighter capacity limits on indoor dining, beauty salons and religious gatherings, children aged 5 to 17 have been told to stay home.
It comes two weeks after the government lifted a ban on minors going outside that had been in place since March 2020 but often flouted.
The government has previously justified the draconian measure by citing the risk of youngsters catching the virus and infecting their elderly relatives.
Independent research group OCTA, which advises the government on its pandemic response, called Thursday for “localized lockdowns” as well as extended curfews and a stay-at-home order for children.
The group “believes that a surge in its early stages has started in the National Capital Region,” OCTA’s Ranjit Rye said in a statement, warning it may be driven by the Delta variant.
The Health department said checks were underway to ensure hospitals had enough beds, medicine, oxygen tanks and staff to deal with a possible surge in cases.
Record infections earlier this year had threatened to overwhelm health care facilities.
Border restrictions have also been tightened for travelers from Thailand and Malaysia where authorities are battling to contain Delta-fueled outbreaks.
India, Indonesia and Pakistan are also among the countries on the travel ban list.
It comes as the Philippines struggles to vaccinate its population of 110 million due to tight global supplies and logistical challenges.
Just over 5 million people are fully vaccinated while 10.5 million have received their first jab.
In a briefing Friday, Health Undersecretary Maria Rosario Vergeire said two Delta variant cases were fully vaccinated, four had received one dose of a COVID-19 vaccine, while the vaccination status of the remaining 23 cases are still under verification.
Among the 47 cases, 36 have recovered, three have died, and eight remain active but are asymptomatic.
Vergeire said 24 Delta cases are returning overseas Filipinos, 22 are local infections, while the DOH is still verifying whether one case is a local infection.
Three new cases of the Delta variant have addresses in the cities of Pasig and Taguig, the Department of Health said Friday.
Pasig City has two local cases while Taguig has one, Vergeire said.
The patients were among 12 new local cases of the highly contagious COVID-19 variant reported Thursday. They have been earlier tagged as recovered but local health offices are verifying their health status.
Manila logged a new case of the Delta variant while six others were found in Bataan and two were in Laguna.
The Manila City government earlier confirmed there were three Delta patients in the city. Among them was a 58-year-old woman from Pandacan, who died on June 28.
Another patient, who was initially declared as recovered, tested positive for COVID-19 again after undergoing a new test, the DOH said.
Vergeire said the new patients would undergo retesting to ensure they were clear of the coronavirus.
She also said the presence of more transmissible variants could be “correlated” to a rise in cases in NCR Plus and areas of the Visayas.
From July 16 to 22, the country recorded 5,666 coronavirus infections, an increase of 626 cases compared to the previous week. A total of over 1.5 million cases have been logged in the Philippines.
“After a slow decline in the past weeks, the case trend in the NCR Plus areas is showing an increase in the recent week,” Vergeire said.
“Visayas is also showing an upward trend in the number of cases while Mindanao has a slight increase this week, and the case trend in the rest of Luzon is plateauing,” she said.
NCR Plus, composed of Metro Manila and the provinces of Bulacan, Cavite, Laguna and Rizal, showed signs of case increase.
The capital region logged 797 infections from July 16 to 22, an increase of 179 cases. But it is nowhere near its peak from March 29 to April 4, when it had 5,534 cases.
Rising COVID-19 cases were also observed in Bulacan, Cavite, Laguna and Rizal in the same period, Vergeire said. Cavite (259) and Bulacan (172) had the fastest increase.
“There is a need to identify the causes for this increase in cases in these local governments to preserve the gains achieved in the past two months,” Vergeire said.
In the rest of Luzon, an upward trend of cases was also noticed in Cagayan Valley, Central Luzon and Calabarzon, while the Bicol Region was on a downward trend.
Vergeire said Ilocos Region, Mimaropa and the Cordillera Administrative Region showed a plateauing trend in cases.
In the Visayas, Central Visayas reported a “steep rise” in cases, with 577 new infections recorded from July 16 to 22, the health official said. The region logged 422 cases in the previous week.
She said COVID-19 cases in Eastern Visayas (177) were declining while the case trend in Western Visayas (644) was plateauing.
In the south, Northern Mindanao reported a “sharp increase” in COVID-19 cases, with 277 new infections tallied over the same period. It only had 206 cases in the past week.
Caraga (136) and the Bangsamoro Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (37) also showed an uptick in virus infections, Vergeire said.
Meanwhile, a downward trend was observed in the Zamboanga Peninsula (78) and Davao Region (414) while the case trend in Soccsksargen (214) was plateauing.
In other developments:
* An adviser of the National Task Force (NTF) against COVID-19, Dr. Ted Herbosa, said more Filipinos need to be encouraged to be vaccinated as the highly contagious Delta variant has begun to spread locally. A Delta variant carrier can infect up to eight people, making it more transmissible than the original strain of Covid-19, experts say.
* The Philippines got an additional 1 million doses of COVID-19 from China Friday morning, bringing to 3,010,120 the total doses the country received in the past three days. The latest shipment of Sinovac vaccine consigned to the Department of Health was transported to Manila from Beijing by Cebu Pacific Air (CEB) via flight 5J-671. Customs officials said the vaccines were immediately loaded in a reefer van and transported to the facility owned and operated by the government’s third party cold chain and logistics partner Pharmaserv Express in Marikina City upon arrival at the Ninoy Aquino International Airport. The doses followed the arrival of 1.5 million doses of the same China-made vaccine last Thursday, which was also shipped by Cebu Pacific. On Wednesday, the 5th shipment of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine consisting of 510,120 doses also landed at the NAIA Terminal 3 via Air Hong Kong flight LD-457.