MANILA (3rd UPDATE) — Metro Manila will be under the second strictest of 5 COVID-19 alert levels in a new set-up meant to better curb infections and spur business activity, government said on Tuesday.
The capital region's nearly 13.5 million people will shift to Alert Level 4 quarantine from Sept. 16, Interior Undersecretary Epimaco Densing III told ABS-CBN's TeleRadyo.
Metro Manila will serve as pilot area for the alert system with granular lockdowns. These will replace the existing 4-degree classification imposed on large groups of cities and provinces, the inter-agency task force on COVID-19 earlier said.
Under Level 4, outdoor or al fresco dine-in services will be permitted at 30 percent capacity. Indoor dine-in services will only be allowed at 10 percent capacity and can only cater to those fully vaccinated against COVID-19, said Palace spokesman Harry Roque.
Personal care services limited to barbershops, hair spas, nail spas, and beauty salons are allowed to operate also at 30 percent capacity if they operate in an outdoor setting. If they function indoors, only 10 percent of seating capacity is allowed, said the COVID-19 task force.
Religious gatherings are allowed in the same condition, with all church workers required to be fully vaccinated, Roque said.
Looser curbs on businesses are expected to bring back some P180 million to the economy every week, and allow 150,000 to 200,000 people to return to work, said Trade Secretary Ramon Lopez.
"[This is] not much, but at least, meron na hong makapag-restart from these sectors," he said in a Palace press briefing.
"It’s really focused on these labor-intensive jobs kaya ‘yon po ang dahilan kung bakit nauna itong mga necessary, basic services," added the official.
(Not much, but at least, some from these sectors can restart. It’s really focused on these labor-intensive jobs and this is why these necessary, basic services were prioritized.)
The DOH will identify the alert level of pilot area weekly, Roque said.
"Metro Manila lang po ang may alert levels. Community quarantines pa rin po ang mga nasa labs ng NCR," he said in the same briefing.
Areas where Alert Level 4 is hoisted have high or increasing coronavirus cases, and have high utilization of their hospital and intensive care, said the IATF.
"Ang basis po ng Alert Level 4 ay yung ating average daily attack rate, yung pagtaas at pagdami ng kaso sa bawat araw, at yung pinaka-important d'yan, yung healthcare utilization rate," DILG's Densing said.
(The basis for the Alert Level 4 are the average daily attack rate, the daily increase and spread of infection, and most importantly, the healthcare utilization rate.)
"Nasa high to critical ang basehan po n'yan. Ang (healthcare utilization) ng Metro Manila ay nasa 76 percent overall. Yun primarily ang magiging basehan muna, at least sa panimula."
(The basis is when it's high to critical. Metro Manila's healthcare utilization is at 76 percent overall. This will be the initial basis for the alert level.)
The task force said minors, people above 65 years old, individuals with comorbidity, and pregnant women are not allowed to go out in areas under this alert level, “provided, that they shall be allowed access to obtain essential goods and services, or for work in permitted industries and offices.”
People not in those categories may be allowed to travel within and outside of areas under Level 4, subject to the regulation of their destination's local government unit.
Outdoor exercises are allowed for residents, regardless of health and vaccination status, but only within their village or barangay. They should also observe basic COVID-19 protocols, such as wearing face masks and avoiding crowds.
Processions and similar services are prohibited. Necrological services, meanwhile, will be limited to immediate family members, provided the cause of death was not COVID-19.
Establishments and activities prohibited under Alert 4 include indoor tourist attractions, cinemas, internet cafés, casinos, wedding receptions, gyms, and cosmetic clinics, among others.
Government offices will operate at least 20 percent capacity under Level 4 areas.
At any alert level, local governments can impose 14-day granular lockdowns in areas with "high transmission" of COVID-19, said Lopez.
Granular lockdowns will close a barangay, street, or several houses and buildings, Roque said.
"Ang maganda rito ay maliliit na lugar lang ang nala-lockdown habang malayang gumalaw ang mas nakakarami," he said.
(What's good here is only small areas will be locked down while most people elsewhere are allowed to move.)
Health workers and uniformed personnel tasked to enforce granular lockdown will be allowed to move in and out of areas covered by this restriction, Roque added.
Wide-scale, strict and lengthy lockdowns since last year have decimated the Philippine economy, which was one of Asia's fastest growing before the pandemic.
"We should strive for total health and this can only be realized by carefully balancing our COVID-19 response by considering both the health of our people and the economic health of the nation," Roque said on Monday.
The Philippines, which has the second-highest number of COVID-19 cases and deaths in Southeast Asia, is battling its worst surge in infections, overwhelming hospitals and healthcare workers.
Cases in the past 30 days alone accounted for more than a fifth of the country's 2.2 million cases, while total deaths have reached 35,145.
-- With reports from Reuters; Jamaine Punzalan and Gillan Ropero, ABS-CBN News