MANILA — How strict will be Metro Manila's new strategy to contain COVID-19 from Sept. 16? Just two coronavirus infections will merit a street's lockdown, an official said on Wednesday.
The capital region's 13 million people from Thursday will test a new pandemic alert system with granular lockdowns, which government hopes will better contain COVID-19 cases and spur business activity.
Fourteen-day granular lockdowns will cover houses, buildings, streets or subdivisions, officials earlier said.
"Katulad po sa isang floor ng isang condominium… basta magkaroon lang po ng isa pong case doon, ‘yong mismong isang floor na ‘yon ay puwede na po nating i-lock down po ‘yan," said Parañaque City Mayor Edwin Olivarez, who chairs the Metro Manila Council.
"Isang bahay, puwede po nating i-lock down basta magkaroon lang po ng isang case po sa isang bahay. Kapag po sa kalsada, sa isang sitio po, mag-2 lang po ng case doon ay puwede na po nating magkaroon ng lockdown po d’yan para po ma-implement din," he added, quoting guidelines from the interior department.
(For instance, one floor of a condominium, if there is just one case there, we can lock down that floor. For a house, we can lock it down as long as there is one case. For a street, a sitio, we can implement a lockdown if there are at least 2 cases.)
The 2-week granular lockdown is meant to give way to mass testing, contact-tracing, and isolation. Residents covered by the restriction will automatically undergo swab tests for the novel coronavirus, Olivarez said in a televised public briefing.
Authorities will distribute food packs in areas under granular lockdowns, he said.
"Wala pong financial [assistance] po ‘yan, food pack po ang itutulong ng ating gobyerno," said the mayor.
(There will be no financial assistance, our government will help with food packs.)
The granular lockdowns would be accompanied by 5 alert levels designating the range of businesses allowed to operate, including activities targeted at fully vaccinated individuals, officials said.
Metro Manila will be under Alert 4, which allows outdoor dining at 30 percent capacity, and indoor dining for small groups of fully immunized people, Malacañang said.
Religious gatherings and personal care services will be allowed at 30 percent of building capacity, it added.
The capital region, an urban sprawl of 16 cities and a lone town is the country's coronavirus epicenter, accounting for a third of cases and one in every four deaths. Three-fifths of the area's population have already been fully vaccinated against COVID-19, government data showed.
If successful, the alert level system with granular lockdowns could be applied across the Philippines, which is battling one of Asia's worst coronavirus outbreaks.
The shift in the government's COVID-19 strategy could soon pave the way for limited face-to-face school classes and the reopening of indoor entertainment facilities in areas with low virus transmission and adequate hospital capacity.
The shift followed calls by some health professionals for tighter curbs to give hospitals some breathing space.
"Up to now, cases are still increasing. It's just like the Olympics, we are waiting for when we will hit a new record high," Geneve Rivera-Reyes, a public physician, told Reuters.
Metro Manila's overall infections in the past 30 days alone accounted for more than a fifth of the country's total of 2.2 million cases, while overall deaths have reached 35,529.
— With reports from Jamaine Punzalan, ABS-CBN News; Reuters