Malacañang has expanded the areas that will be placed under Enhanced Community Quarantine starting today (Friday) to include the province of Laguna, Cagayan de Oro City and Iloilo City.
These areas will be under the strictest lockdown until August 15 as the country scrambles to stem the surge in COVID-19 cases, presidential spokesman Harry Roque said.
Meanwhile, the provinces of Cavite, Rizal and Iloilo as well as Lucena City will be placed under Modified ECQ during the same period.
Batangas and Quezon, on the other hand, will be under General Community Quarantine with heightened restrictions from today until Aug. 15.
The government earlier placed the National Capital Region under ECQ from Aug. 6 to 20, with nine out of the 17 cities in Metro Manila recording at least one case of the more transmissible Delta variant.
While the entire country’s risk classification remained at “moderate,” cities in Metro Manila except Marikina and Caloocan were already tagged as high-risk due to their moving average daily attack rate.
Meanwhile, under fire for barring authorized persons outside of residence (APORs) from being fetched from work by non-APORs during the two-week lockdown in Metro Manila, Philippine National Police chief Gen. Guillermo Eleazar on Thursday reversed the policy.
“I coordinated with the NTF (National Task Force against Covid-19) and eventually with (Interior and Local Government) Secretary Eduardo Año,” Eleazar said.
“We sought to find a balance here and now, we are allowing our APORs, those working in permitted industries who are leaving their homes for work, meaning they can be driven to and fetched from their workplaces by non-APOR drivers.”
Eleazar, however, added bureaucratic obstacles to the process, saying documents such as the APOR’s employment certificate, a document indicating the name of the APOR’s designated driver, vehicle information, and contact number and a copy of the APOR employer’s business permit must be presented at checkpoints.
He also sought to defend his earlier statements barring non-APORs from driving APORs to and from work, saying the practice could be abused by motorists.
“We have seen that many are still trying to break the law during the previous implementation of ECQ and MECQ. Anybody can just say ‘I will fetch somebody or I just dropped off somebody’. This practice can be abused but we just considered the plight of our APORs who are complying with rules in retaining it and we don’t want them to sacrifice just because of our stubborn fellowmen,” he said.
On Wednesday, the Commission on Human Rights (CHR) urged the PNP to reconsider the policy.
CHR spokesperson Jacqueline de Guia said while they fully understand the purpose of quarantine restrictions, health workers and employees of other essential industries should not be deprived of the right to a safe way of going to and from their workplaces.
The PNP announced on Thursday that cities in Metro Manila, including Pateros, would be considered “individual bubbles” and that non-authorized travel between cities would not be allowed during the ECQ.
“From one large bubble, including the provinces of Bulacan, Cavite, Laguna and Rizal, the NCR will shift to tiny bubbles,” the PNP chief said.
The PNP chief added there would also be inter-city checkpoints between the borders of NCR cities and Pateros. This is different from the previous bubble where checkpoints were located between NCR Plus Bubble areas and their nearby province or town.
At the same time, Eleazar said police would be deployed in establishments to ensure people are observing health protocols when buying essential goods.
He said police and employees in the establishments will coordinate to make sure that their customers are APORs and do not cross city borders.
Meanwhile, the Department of Justice on Thursday directed the National Bureau of Investigation to probe and, if evidence warrants, file appropriate charges against unscrupulous traders involved in hoarding oxygen tanks and other medical supplies.
Justice Secretary Menardo Guevarra said the investigation would focus on Cebu and other parts of the country where COVID-19 cases are high or are expected to rise.
Guevarra enjoined NBI officer-in-charge Eric Distor to submit an initial update on the investigation within 10 days.
The DOJ chief’s order came after the PNP launched a separate investigation in light of Cebu City Mayor Michael Rama’s allegation about the supposed hoarding of oxygen tanks amid the COVID-19 crisis.
Trade and Industry Secretary Ramon Lopez on Wednesday warned erring distributors and hoarders of oxygen tanks that the Department of Trade and Industry would also be running after them. However, Lopez assured the public that there is no shortage of oxygen supply.
“Current industry capacity is about three times more than the current demand. There is a surplus from the producers’ side,” he said.
“Based on reports from industry, for now, the increase in demand for cylinder tanks is coming more from the households trying to buy for their personal need, either current or potential emergency need.”