MANILA (2nd UPDATE) — Some 13 million residents of Metro Manila will be placed under the strictest of four lockdown levels, the enhanced community quarantine (ECQ), from Aug. 6 to 20 to arrest the spread of the highly transmissible COVID-19 Delta variant, Malacañang said on Friday.
President Rodrigo Duterte approved the decision after "hours" of debate among authorities, said Palace spokesman Harry Roque.
"Masakit na desisyon po natin ito dahil alam nating mahirap ang ECQ, pero kinakailangan gawin po ito para maiwasan ang kakulangan ng ating mga ICU beds at iba pang hospital requirements kung lolobo po talaga ang kaso dahil sa Delta variant," Roque said on the government television network.
(This is a painful decision because we know ECQ is difficult, but we need to do this to avoid a shortage of our ICU beds and other hospital requirements, if cases balloon because of the Delta variant.)
"Sa huli, ang iinisip ng lahat ay kailangan gawin ang mahirap na desisyon na ito para mas maraming buhay ang maligtas," added the official.
(In the end, what everyone put in mind was we needed to come up with this difficult situation so that more lives would be saved.)
Duterte directed the budget department "to source funds" to provide lockdown aid to Metro Manila residents, Roque said.
'HEIGHTENED, ADDITIONAL' CURBS FOR NOW
In the meantime, Metro Manila will be under under General Community Quarantine "subject to heightened and additional restrictions" from July 30 until Aug. 5, Roque said.
These restrictions include a ban on indoor dine-in services and al fresco dining starting Saturday. Only take-out and delivery will be allowed, he said.
Operations in these establishments will be allowed until this Friday night, said Roque.
On the other hand, he said personal care services, such as beauty salons, beauty parlors, barber shops and nail spas may operate up to 30 percent of venue or seating capacity.
Indoor sports courts and venues and indoor tourist attractions and specialized markets of the Department of Tourism may not operate. Outdoor tourist attractions, as may be defined by the DOT, shall remain to be allowed at 30-percent venue capacity, Roque said.
Only "authorized persons outside their residences" shall be allowed to travel into and out of the NCR Plus Area, which includes Cavite, Bulacan, Laguna, and Rizal, said Roque.
Presenting their company IDs to authorities would be enough, he said.
Public transport will continue to operate until Aug. 5. "Let's await" further guidelines for Aug 6. onwards, when the ECQ takes effect, Roque said in a text message.
Meanwhile, only virtual religious gatherings shall be allowed, he said.
"Ibig sabihin, lahat po ng mass gatherings, bawal po muna," he said.
(This means all mass gatherings are banned for now.)
Necrological services, wakes, and funerals for those who died of causes other than COVID-19 will be allowed and limited to immediate family members, he said.
WHAT EXPERTS, MAYORS SAID
The OCTA research group earlier urged government to place the region under a "circuit-breaking" lockdown to curb an uptick in coronavirus infections in the capital, following the confirmation of the Delta variant's local transmission.
Speaking to ANC, Dr. Guido David noted that "there are a lot more transmissions now compared to what is being reported" because genome sequencing, which determines the kind of coronavirus variant, has a backlog of about 2 to 3 weeks.
"We recommended a stricter quarantine because if we can beat this, we should be ok," he said.
"My feeling is we should be ok until the end of the year and until next year because we will have more people vaccinated and we will have booster shots available in case some people are worried that the virus may come back. I don’t think so, we will have booster shots, it will address the variants and we should have a normal 2022. That’s the goal here," he said.
He said waves of large-scale transmissions are usually caused by new variants that come in. The Delta variant is currently the predominant one globally, and "we haven’t seen a new, more threatening variant," he said.
"I think that this is the last major hurdle that we have to go through, not just until the end of the year," he told ANC's Headstart.
"If we can beat this Delta variant in the same way Hidilyn (Diaz) won the gold, it would be a big victory for us because the other countries are struggling to deal with this variant," he said, referring to the weightlifter who brought home the Philippines' first Olympic gold.
Mayors had backed the proposed ECQ in the region due to the threat of the COVID-19 Delta variant if the national government could provide cash assistance and at least 4 million COVID-19 shots, Metropolitan Manila Development Authority (MMDA) chairman Benhur Abalos earlier said.
The national government will "most likely" provide this aid, said Roque, adding that he would "seek confirmation."
QUARANTINE CLASSIFICATIONS FOR REST OF PH
Other areas will be under the following quarantine levels, Roque said.
ENHANCED COMMUNITY QUARANTINE
FROM AUG. 1 TO 7
- Gingoog City
- Iloilo City
- Iloilo province
- Cagayan de Oro City
FROM AUG. 1 TO 15
- Cebu City
- Cebu province
- Ilocos Norte
- Lapu-Lapu City
- Mandaue City
GCQ WITH HEIGHTENED RESTRICTIONS
FROM AUG. 1 TO 15
- Bacolod City
- Butuan City
- Davao City
- Davao del Norte
- Davao de Oro
- Davao Occidental
- Ilocos Sur
- Lucena City
- Misamis Oriental
- Naga City
- Negros Oriental
- Zamboanga del Sur
FROM AUG. 1 TO 30
- Agusan del Norte
- Agusan del Sur
- Baguio City
- Cotabato City
- Davao Oriental
- Davao del Sur
- Dinagat Islands
- General Santos City
- Negros Occidental
- North Cotabato
- Nueva Vizcaya
- Santiago City
- Puerto Princesa
- South Cotabato
- Sultan Kudarat
- Surigao del Norte
- Surigao del Sur
- Zamboanga City
- Zamboanga del Norte
- Zamboanga Sibugay
All other areas are placed under the least stringent modified GCQ from Aug. 1 to August 31, Roque said.
The highly transmissible Delta variant, first detected in India, has spread rapidly across much of Southeast Asia.
The Philippines also extended a ban on travelers coming from 10 countries including India, Indonesia, Thailand, and the United Arab Emirates to Aug. 15 to arrest the Delta variant's spread.
Already battling the second-worst coronavirus outbreak in Asia, the Philippines has so far recorded over 1.57 million confirmed COVID-19 cases and more than 27,000 deaths.
The country has reported 216 cases of the Delta variant, but health experts say there could be more undetected cases because of the slow pace of the country's genome sequencing.
The second wave in the Philippine outbreak peaked in April and after mainly trending low, infections started to rise again in recent weeks. Currently hospital occupancy in the capital area is 49 percent, while the rate for intensive care beds is 58 percent.
With only 7 percent of the country's 110 million people fully vaccinated against COVID-19, tens of millions remain vulnerable to the virus. The government is aiming to fully immunize up to 70 million people before the year ends.
– With a report from Reuters