ECQ extended till May 15 in Metro, other high-risk areas
President Rodrigo Duterte has extended the enhanced community quarantine (ECQ) in Metro Manila to May 15 but also relaxed lockdown restrictions in other parts of the country where the risks from the new coronavirus disease (COVID-19) were either just beginning or already receding.
He approved the recommendation of the Inter-Agency Task Force on Emerging Infectious Diseases (IATF-EID) to implement the less strict general community quarantine (GCQ) in provinces with low to moderate risk of infection from SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes the severe respiratory ailment.
“When will this ever stop? … COVID-19 will not stop. It will be here and it will stay until kingdom come,” Mr. Duterte said in a televised message to the nation aired on Friday morning.
Only a vaccine will halt the contagion. “COVID-19 equals vaccine, period,” he said.
The President appealed to Filipinos to be more patient and bear the tight restrictions, which have been imposed on Metro Manila from March 15 and the entire Luzon Island from March 17 to April 30.
Among the strictest
“We are trying to limit the contamination, because if it spreads, I will have a bigger problem,” he said. “If you are satisfied, we are thankful. If we did not do enough, then we apologize. We’ll try our very best next time.”
The lockdown, which will stretch to eight weeks, is one of the world’s strictest community quarantines to curb the virus infections.
After China and Italy, but just a few days before Spain, the Philippines became the third country to order a tight lockdown and home quarantine, even though it had only a fraction of the infections and deaths of nations that took similar measures.
The IATF-EID, an adhoc body which manages the government’s efforts to contain the virus, had classified the national capital and various provinces in the country into different levels of risk of outbreak with the corresponding restrictions.
The groupings had been color-coded for easier identification, according to presidential spokesperson Harry Roque.
In addition to Metro Manila, the high risk, or “red” provinces where the ECQ will continue beginning May 1 include 17 in Luzon, three in the Visayas plus Cebu City and one in Mindanao and Davao City.
The ECQ entails “strict home quarantine” for all households, suspension of transportation, regulated provision for food and essential health services and “heightened presence” of police and soldiers to enforce the quarantine, the IATF-EID said.
National Task Force COVID-19 Chief Implementer Carlito Galvez Jr. said the National Capital Region was in a critical situation because it is densely populated and accounts for 4,673, or about 67 percent, of the total 6,981 cases nationwide as of Thursday.
The moderate risk areas that will be under GCQ include three provinces in the Visayas and seven in Mindanao. They are coded “yellow” to signify that cases are just beginning there.
Another group of moderate risk areas that is coded “orange” to indicate a deceleration in cases include nine provinces in Luzon, three in the Visayas and eight in Mindanao.
According to the IATF-EID, the movement of people in areas under GCQ “shall be limited to accessing basic necessities and work.” Soldiers, police and quarantine officers will be in charge of border control.
The low risk, or “green,” areas where the GCQ will be “relaxed” include 13 provinces in Luzon, seven in the Visayas, and 13 in Mindanao.
Those in this group are at the “recognition and preparation” phase where there might be just one or no case at all but must be ready for any outbreak.
Roque said the GCQ may be “relaxed leading to normalization” if “there is no deterioration” of the COVID-19 situation.
“Other provinces which do not fall under the ECQ will fall under the new normal or a general community quarantine,” he said.
The IATF-EID also said “minimum health standards” for affected sectors would be implemented beginning on April 27.
The guidelines, which would be in place by April 25, will be crafted by the Department of Health for hospitals, testing and hygiene; the Department of Transportation for public transportation; the Department of Trade and Industry for employers; the Department of Labor and Employment for employees; and the Department of Public Works and Highways for infrastructure construction.
Airports and seaports will be allowed to open in both ECQ and GCQ areas only to ensure the unhampered movement of goods.
Reduced transport capacity
“Public transport will be allowed to operate at a reduced capacity, and the local government unit will enforce a curfew at night for nonworkers,” Roque said.
In GCQ areas, children and young people under 20, senior citizens, those with “high health risks” or existing illnesses will be required to stay home.
Nonleisure shops in malls in areas under GCQ will be allowed to reopen partially.
These includes supermarkets, drugstores, banks, laundry shops, hardware stores and restaurants, but only for takeout and delivery services. Health protocols will have to be followed.
Only those age 21 to 59 years old, with ID cards and “not looking sickly” will be allowed inside.
Priority and essential construction projects will resume in GCQ areas, subject to minimum health standards, physical distancing and accommodation for workers.
The President approved the full resumption of work in agriculture, fishery, forestry, food manufacturing, supply chain, packaging, raw materials production, logistics, water, energy, internet, telecom and media in areas with a low to moderate risk of COVID-19 transmission.
He also approved a “50 to 100 percent” reopening of manufacturing for electronics and exports, e-commerce and delivery of essential and nonessential goods, and maintenance services, housing and office services.
There will be 50-percent on-site work, 50-percent work-from-home arrangement for financial services, business process outsourcing, other nonleisure wholesale and retail trade, other nonleisure services in GCQ areas, Roque said.
The following, however, will remain shuttered in GCQ areas: leisure, amusement, gaming and fitness, kid industry, tourism, all mass gatherings including religious activities and other conferences.
Roque said schools in GCQ areas would still not be allowed to reopen. The government may “consider a late opening in September, except for online learning,” he said.
Colleges and universities will be allowed to finish the academic year and give credentials to students, he added. —WITH A REPORT FROM WIRES
Subscribe to INQUIRER PLUS to get access to The Philippine Daily Inquirer & other 70+ titles, share up to 5 gadgets, listen to the news, download as early as 4am & share articles on social media. Call 896 6000.