Few select areas under GCQ
MANILA (UPDATE 4) — President Rodrigo Duterte on Sunday downgraded a notch to modified enhanced community quarantine (MECQ) the quarantine level over 24 million people in Metro Manila and four surrounding provinces, Malacañang said, even as COVID-19 cases continued to increase.
The inter-agency task force leading the country's COVID-19 response urged Duterte to downgrade the enhanced community quarantine over the National Capital Region, Bulacan, Cavite, Laguna and Rizal provinces from April 12, Palace spokesman Harry Roque said.
Duterte approved the recommendation and placed the Greater Manila area–which government calls NCR Plus– under MECQ, the third strictest of 4 lockdown levels, until April 30, Roque said.
Santiago City in Isabela, Quirino province, and Abra were also placed under MECQ for the same period.
Roque said specific measures under MECQ will be discussed in a separate news briefing on Monday.
But Metro Manila will start implementing new unified curfew hours from 8 p.m. to 5 a.m. on Monday, following the implementation of MECQ, Metropolitan Manila Development Authority Chairman Benhur Abalos said.
It will stay until April 30, although local executives, according to Abalos, have powers to adjust curfew hours under the new rules approved by the IATF.
Curfew hours during the ECQ in the NCR Plus from March 29 until Sunday were from 6 p.m. to 5 a.m.
Philippine National Police Spokesperson PBGen. Ildebrandi Usana also said there will still be checkpoints in the NCR Plus area, but the rules will be more relaxed.
He said specific instructions will be based on what Malacañang will be announcing on Monday.
The Financial Executives Institute of the Philippines (FINEX) welcomed the decision to lower the quarantine level in NCR Plus, as it means "more industries can re-open and more employees can go back to work".
"More importantly, we hope that the relaxation is a portent of things to come. But to make it effective, the government must step up in the area of data management, contact tracing, vaccine procurement and logistics, quarantine and hospital facilities. Our government must realize that time is of the essence," FINEX president Francis Lim said in a statement, adding that "a continued lockdown will aggravate the economy".
Trade Secretary Ramon Lopez said malls may start to open, and restaurants may serve dine-in services in outdoor areas at 50 percent capacity, with diagonal seating or with acrylic dividers.
He said indoor dine-in is not permitted, based on the omnibus guidelines.
SM malls in Metro Manila will reopen beginning Monday, but will continue to follow some restrictions, including prohibition of dine-in services, said Steven Tan, SM Malls President.
Ayala Malls in the NCR Plus area will also reopen essential establishments such as supermarkets, drugstores, book stores, hardware stores, pet food and pet care supplies, banks, service providers, retail stores, and restaurants with outdoor dining areas starting Monday, the management said in a statement.
The following establishments in Robinsons Malls will also open starting Monday, according to Myron Yao, its Regional Operations Manager: supermarket, pharmacies, banks, hardware stores, telco providers, fashion and accessories, specialty shops and other services.
Restaurants at Robinsons Malls will be open for alfresco dining, delivery and takeout, it added.
The following, however, will remain closed: entertainment, amusement centers, gyms and fitness centers, personal care services, Internet cafes, and travel agencies.
DFA OFFICES, COURTS
The Department of Foreign Affairs said its offices in the NCR Plus area will open but with skeletal workforce and will attend to emergency or urgent cases only.
Those who have passport and authentication appointments affected by the ECQ and MECQ will be given alternative dates.
"We again advise that schedules may still be subject to change if current MECQ restrictions continue or if local governments and mall partners which host these COs implement restrictions on access," the DFA said.
Meanwhile, the Supreme Court's Office of the Court Administrator extended the closure of courts until April 18 to cover courts in Santiago City, as well as in the provinces of Quirino and Abra, which are also under MECQ.
Under the new quarantine classification for the NCR Plus, Roque said "dedicated COVID-19 beds in isolation, quarantine and health facilities must be increased through the joint effort of the Department of Education, the Metropolitan Manila Development Authority, the Department of Public Works and Highways, and the Department of Health."
"There must be an adequate number of COVID-19 dedicated beds, complementary health human resources, and well-coordinated triage and referral systems in place at the local government units (LGUs), isolation and quarantine facilities, and health facilities," he said.
Hospitals must partner with temporary treatment and monitoring facilities or step-down facilities for mild/moderate care or home care to be able to decongest, "provided there is proof of capacity to do adequate quarantine/isolation," added Roque.
Roque said the commitment of hospitals to add COVID-19 beds in the NCR Plus was a basis for the IATF to recommend MECQ for the bubble area.
LGUs in the NCR Plus are enjoined to set up their respective local telehealth triaging systems to provide immediate medical and patient referral advice, he said.
They are as well urged to "prioritize the generation of demand for vaccination to those with highest risk for severe disease and death, particularly Priority Groups A2 and A3 of the National Deployment and Vaccination Plan for COVID-19."
Meanwhile, Roque said Duterte also approved placing the following areas under General Community Quarantine from April 12 until the end of the month:
- Cordillera Administrative Region
- Cagayan, Isabela, and Nueva Vizcaya provinces in Region 2
- Batangas and Quezon provinces in Region 4-A
- Tacloban City in Region 8
- Iligan City in Region 10
- Davao City in Region 11
- Lanao del Sur in the Bangsamoro Region
All other areas in the country are under modified GCQ, he added.
It was not immediately clear whether Duterte met with the COVID-19 task force in person. Earlier this week, he cancelled a public address as dozens in his security team were stricken with the coronavirus. His last public engagement was on March 29.
The Philippines, which has the second-highest COVID-19 cases and deaths in Southeast Asia, reported 11,681 new coronavirus infections on Sunday, pushing its total tally of cases to 864,868.
Active cases in the country hit 146,519, according to the health department.
Intensive care capacity in NCR hospitals has reached the "high-risk" level, with 80 percent of beds utilized and many hospitals being forced to turn away patients.
The congested capital region, an urban sprawl of 16 cities and a municipality, account for about two-thirds of the country's gross domestic product.
Extended coronavirus curbs will continue to hurt the Philippines' economy, which posted a record 9.6 percent slump last year.
The Philippines has so far been able to administer a total of 922,898 COVID-19 vaccine doses as of April 6.
The government aims to vaccinate 70 million of its 108 million population to achieve herd immunity and safely reopen the economy.
— With reports from Bianca Dava, Johnson Manabat, Mike Navallo, Willard Cheng, and Alvin Elchico, ABS-CBN News; and from Reuters
More details to follow.