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From ‘taho’ vendor to malls: Back in business, but limits remain

The government eased quarantine restrictions in most parts of the country beginning Saturday, except in Metro Manila, Laguna and Cebu City, in a bid to restart the economy after two months under lockdown.

But a business group warned that companies that were allowed to resume operation, including shopping malls and retail outlets, would be hobbled by the continued restrictions on public transportation.

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Presidential spokesperson Harry Roque said the Inter-Agency Task Force on Emerging Infectious Diseases (IATF-EID) issued Resolution 35-A placing “low-risk” areas in the country under a less restrictive “general community quarantine” (GCQ).

Metro Manila, Laguna and Cebu City, on the other hand, will remain under the more restrictive “modified enhanced community quarantine” (MECQ) until May 31 due to the high number of COVID-19 cases in those areas.

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Under the MECQ, select industries or sectors may restart operations with a limited workforce, but must observe health protocols on physical distancing, the use of protective masks, and personal hygiene.

Public transportation will remain prohibited in MECQ areas but may resume at a limited capacity in GCQ areas.

Businesses, such as barber shops, salons, gyms, theaters, libraries and enterprises related to tourism, gaming, amusement, leisure and fitness will remain prohibited under both categories.

Passes still required

Roque said ambulant vendors, like peddlers of “taho,” “balut” and fried street food could roam the streets again but they should still observe health protocols.

The quarantine passes issued by local governments would still be required of residents who wish to leave their homes. People would be allowed to travel between areas under community quarantine but nonessential travel would still be prohibited and local government may refuse entry to nonresidents, Roque added.

“You have to have a valid reason to travel. The most acceptable reason is that you’re working there [in your destination]. You need to show your employment ID and an ID proving your place of residence,” he said.

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No buyers, no sellers

“[For] those coming from MECQ to GCQ areas, the LGUs retain the right to refuse you if there is no essential reason to travel,” Roque said.

Citing the limits still being imposed on public transportation, the Philippine Retailers Association (PRA) said customers would not be able to come to the stores and buy goods that have been in stock for two months, nor could store employees report for work.

Worse, shopping mall operators might again start charging tenant merchants for rent even as they reel from poor sales, said the PRA, which counts about 400 member companies.

“No one will come. So [it will] not [be] practical to open stores,” said Roberto Claudio, PRA vice chair.

“Retailers are concerned that we may be forced to pay rentals even if we are unable to open for lack of customers, or [our] staff [are] unable to report to work,” Claudio told the Inquirer.

“Company shuttles are not cost effective and will not be practical if your employees come from all parts of NCR (National Capital Region). Policies have to be synchronized with the other policies being implemented,” he added.

New mall practices

Voicing similar concerns, the Management Association of the Philippines in April proposed that the government resume public transportation but on a scale commensurate to public demand.

Major shopping mall operators on Friday said they were ready to reopen after putting in place safety measures in compliance with government guidelines.

Shoppers, however, will have to bear with some reduction in creature comforts as air-conditioning and free Wi-Fi services will be scaled down.

The country’s largest shopping mall developer, SM Prime Holdings, said it was ready to welcome back consumers, assuring them its malls are “safe and clean, complying with safety and sanitation protocols over and above government regulations.”

SM Prime Holdings earlier announced that it was waiving P8.8 billion in mall rent nationwide from March 16 to May 15.

Apart from the usual temperature checks for employees and customers, SM will likewise run COVID-19 antibody rapid testing for all its employees and agency front-liners, including janitors and security guards.

SM tenant partners can avail themselves of this test, at cost, for their respective staff. Protective equipment will also be provided, including face masks and face shields. Alcohol dispensers will also be provided at the mall entrance and restrooms. The restrooms are sanitized every 30 minutes.

Robinsons Land Corp. will also implement social distancing by placing floor markings at mall entrances, restrooms, ATMs and in store entrances.

AyalaMalls said it would step up preventive maintenance and engineering safety checks, as well as implement rigid sanitation and disinfection measures, as its malls reopen. Teams have been designated to monitor foot traffic inside the malls, controlling it if necessary, it added.

Megaworld said that aside from intensified sanitation and safety protocols, its malls will be setting up state-of-the-art disinfection chambers at the entrances.

Only guests ages 21 to 59 will be allowed to enter and guests must present their IDs upon entry, Megaworld said.

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TAGS: businesses, coronavirus Philippines, COVID-19 Philippines, ECQ, GCQ, lockdown, malls, Quarantine
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