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8 areas back on strict quarantine as virus cases keep rising

MANILA, Philippines — Cebu City and Mandaue City opted to remain under restrictive lockdown even as six other areas were allowed to stay under enhanced quarantine to stem the spread of the coronavirus.

Some shopping malls and retail outlets reopened to test new public health regulations on the first day of a “modified enhanced community quarantine” (MECQ) that allows workers in select industries to return to work.

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The Metropolitan Manila Development Authority (MMDA) also noted swells of traffic in the metropolis as security forces tightened checkpoints to verify if the people on the streets were authorized to leave their homes.

MMDA spokesperson Celine Pialago said the build-up along the Balintawak stretch of Edsa, North Luzon Expressway and Marcos Highway in Marikina City was not caused by vehicles but by the checkpoints.

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So far, most of the vehicles observed on the road were cargo trucks and vans, presumed to be private shuttles of companies finally allowed to operate during MECQ, she said.

“There’s nothing to worry about yet,” Pialago said. “We haven’t returned to our normal volume of vehicles before coronavirus. And it would probably take a long time before we return to that same level of traffic again.”

Still, she said, the MMDA is bracing itself for a traffic rush on Monday when more cars are expected on Metro Manila roads.

Motorists are advised to have their IDs and other verification documents ready for inspection, she said.

Caution

Also on Saturday, the Inter-Agency Task Force on Emerging Infectious Diseases (IATF) kept Angeles City, Bataan, Bulacan, Nueva Ecija, Pampanga and Zambales under MECQ until the end of the month, instead of the less restrictive “general community quarantine (GCQ)” as requested by their local officials.

The IATF earlier placed the entire country under GCQ, except for Metro Manila, Cebu City and Laguna, but officials of Cebu and Mandaue asked to remain under ECQ until the end of the month because of the high number of cases in their areas.

As of May 16, the entire island of Cebu had 1,960 cases—1,723 in Cebu City, 112 in Mandaue City, 43 in Lapu-Lapu City. There were 60 other cases in the rest of the island province.

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Eighteen overseas Filipino workers who arrived in Cebu as well as four health workers also tested positive for COVID-19.

Cebu City Mayor Edgardo Labella said he made the request because the city, along with Mandaue and Lapu-Lapu, was still finalizing data from the “strategic community testing” the three cities had been conducting since May 6.

Low turnout for tests

The three adjacent cities, where the bulk of Metro Cebu’s workers reside, had targeted 39,564 residents, or 10 percent of the total number of households in these localities, to undergo rapid diagnostic tests but there had been a low turnout of test takers.

As of May 15, only 25,498 had been tested and the three cities want to extend the mass testing to May 21 so they could reach their target.

But Lapu-Lapu City was not included in the extended ECQ and would have to relax quarantine measures under GCQ guidelines.

Lapu-Lapu City Mayor Junard Chan welcomed the decision to put the city under GCQ but insisted that it was still not safe to proceed with the GCQ.

But the IATF, in its May 15 resolution, indicated that the local governments of such areas could declare localized enhanced community quarantine in critical areas.

The IATF also urged local government units to enforce curfew only for nonworkers and to penalize quarantine violators in a “fair and humane manner.”

More guidelines

It also said the industries and establishments allowed to operate are subject to the inspection of the Department of Labor and Employment and Department of Trade and Industry to ensure their compliance with the maximum allowable operational capacity and health protocols.

The testing of returning workers should not be construed as a requirement for their return, the task force stressed.

Supermarkets, wet markets, grocery stores, agri-fishery supply stores, veterinary supplies stores, pharmacies, drug stores and the like are strongly encouraged to extend their operations to a maximum of 12 hours.

Religious gatherings

Local governments are encouraged to adopt schemes to ensure compliance with physical distancing rules in wet markets.

Presidential spokesperson Harry Roque said religious gatherings remained “highly restricted” in MECQ areas and should be limited to not more than five people.

Pastors, priests, rabbis, imams and other ministers are allowed to hold religious services inside homes, but precautions should still be observed.

For areas under general community quarantine, religious gatherings are allowed but should be limited to not more than 10 people.

Still prohibited are gatherings related to entertainment or nonessential work.

Roque said the IATF also added recruitment and job placement agencies, as well as firearms and ammunition shops, to the list of businesses in MECQ areas that can operate with 50 percent of their workforce on site.

—WITH REPORTS FROM NESTLE SEMILLA, DALE ISRAEL AND ADOR VINCENT MAYOL

For more news about the novel coronavirus click here.
What you need to know about Coronavirus.
For more information on COVID-19, call the DOH Hotline: (02) 86517800 local 1149/1150.

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