Quarantine restrictions eased in Metro Manila, 4 adjacent provinces
MANILA, Philippines — Strict quarantine rules in Metro Manila and the neighboring provinces of Laguna, Bulacan, Cavite and Rizal will be eased slightly starting Monday up to April 30 as hospitals have committed themselves to provide more beds for patients with the new coronavirus disease (COVID-19), presidential spokesperson Harry Roque announced on Sunday.
President Rodrigo Duterte approved the less stringent modified enhanced community quarantine (MECQ) for Metro Manila and the four provinces — dubbed “National Capital Region (NCR) Plus” — from the enhanced community quarantine (ECQ), even as COVID-19 cases continued to rise and swamp hospitals.
Total detected cases surged to 864,868 after laboratory tests confirmed 11,681 new infections on Sunday, the third straight day of breaching the 10,000 mark, according to the Department of Health (DOH).
The death toll climbed to 14,945 after 201 more fatalities were reported. More than 200 deaths had been reported daily in five of the last six days.
The DOH also reported an increasing number of COVID-19 cases with highly infectious virus variants.
Genetic analysis detected four of the current variants of concern in 28 percent of the samples sequenced in the past two weeks.
In a televised briefing, Roque said the Inter-Agency Task Force for the Management of Emerging Infectious Diseases (IATF), the temporary body overseeing the government’s response to the pandemic, recommended the MECQ status in NCR Plus and included Santiago City in Isabela province, and Quirino and Abra provinces.
The rest of the Cordillera Administrative Region, the provinces of Cagayan, Isabela, Nueva Vizcaya, Lanao del Sur and Quezon, and cities of Tacloban, Iligan and Davao were placed under general community quarantine (GCQ).
All other places in the country are under modified GCQ, the lowest category of community quarantine.
Asked if there will be new policies in the latest MECQ, such as new classifications of businesses that can open and under what capacity, Trade Secretary Ramon Lopez simply sent reporters screenshots of the IATF Omnibus Guidelines as of April 3.
The guidelines allowed “all establishments” that were shut down during ECQ to operate at a 50-percent on-site capacity, except for certain activities such as indoor dine-in services, personal care services like beauty salons and derma clinics, and entertainment venues like cinemas, bars and theaters.
Roque said he would discuss the difference between an MECQ and an ECQ on Monday.
Metro Manila mayors have agreed to shorten curfew hours to 8 p.m.-5 a.m. from the original 6 p.m.-5 a.m. when the NCR Plus bubble was placed under the two-week ECQ.
According to the Metropolitan Manila Development Authority, only essential workers and other authorized persons are exempted from curfew, provided that they show proof of identification or certificate of employment to authorities.
Roque said many hospitals in Metro Manila and nearby provinces had promised to add more beds for COVID-19 patients, especially in their intensive care units (ICUs), after the President directed the state’s health insurer, Philippine Health Insurance Corp., to pay the claims of private and public hospitals.
“This is one of the critical bases of the IATF to recommend to the President to relax restrictions a bit and lower the community quarantine category to MECQ in NCR Plus,” he said.
In a Viber message to reporters on Sunday, Lopez said the shift would “restore more jobs and livelihood for the people.”
“But this comes with the continuing priority to increase the health-care capacity, such as ICU rooms, and isolation units, and contact-tracing capabilities to lower the number of new cases per day,” he said.
In NCR Plus, a total of 104 public and private hospitals committed to set aside 164 ICU beds for critical cases, and 1,157 regular beds for moderate and severe cases, Roque said.
Moreover, he said, 100 beds were ready at Quezon Institute for moderate and severe cases, and 960 beds at National Center for Mental Health for moderate cases. For mild and asymptomatic cases, there are 300 beds at Manila Times College at Subic Freeport, 165 at New Clark City in Pampanga province, 200 at Eva Macapagal Terminal in Manila, and 100 at the port terminal in Orion, Bataan province.
With the extra beds, Roque said the new health-care utilization rates would be 74.34 percent for ICUs, 46.04 percent for wards and 59.56 percent for isolation units. —