After two months under the enhanced community quarantine (ECQ) and two weeks under the modified enhanced community quarantine (MECQ), Metro Manila has now shifted to a general community quarantine (GCQ).
With the shift to the GCQ on June 1 comes the easing of several restrictions, opening the door for more businesses and other sectors such as transportation to resume operations.
The shifting of the National Capital Region to the GCQ was announced by President Rodrigo Duterte last week, heeding the recommendation of the Inter-Agency Task Force for the Management of Emerging Infectious Diseases (IATF-EID).
Mayors of Metro Manila had also earlier agreed to the shift to a GCQ, citing the need to jumpstart the economy which has been badly hit by lockdown restrictions.
Concerns over possible spike
The decision came despite recommendations by experts to delay the loosening of restrictions. Experts at the University of the Philippines urged the government to keep NCR and other high-risk areas under an MECQ.
"The reproduction number of NCR, which is oscillating at around 1.0 rather than showing a discernible decrease, is a sign that it might be premature to relax the MECQ to GCQ (general community quarantine)," said the study.
Researchers at the University of Santo Tomas also cautioned against moving to a looser quarantine, predicting an increase in COVID-19 cases and deaths.
"At this rate, the model predicts that the total number of cases in Metro Manila will continue to increase gradually and will not plateau for many months, though the forecasted number of active cases will also be decreasing," the UST researchers said.
UP researchers also said that the government should vastly improve its mass testing and contact tracing efforts by the time Metro Manila—the region hardest hit by the virus—moves to a GCQ.
Health Secretary Francisco Duque III himself said that shifting Metro Manila to a GCQ without enough testing for its population may open the possibility of another spike in the number of COVID-19 cases.
The Philippines is still “some ways off” the government's target to conduct 30,000 tests daily, a medical expert said last week.
As of Sunday, May 31, 2020, the Philippines has a total of 18,086 confirmed cases of COVID-19. This includes 3,909 recoveries and 957 deaths.
Under the GCQ, public transportation in Metro Manila will reopen on Monday, June 1, albeit on a limited basis, capped at 30% of capacity prior to the quarantines.
The gradual resumption of public transportation will be made in two phases, with the first phase from June 1 to 21, allowing trains and bus augmentation, taxis, transport network vehicle services, shuttle services, point-to-point buses, and bicycles.
Tricycles are allowed subject to the approval of the concerned local government unit, while provincial buses are still barred from entering and exiting Metro Manila during the period.
Meanwhile, the second phase will cover June 22 to 30, allowing public utility buses, modern public utility vehicles (PUVs) or jeepneys, and UV Express vehicles.
Meanwhile, the Department of Trade and Industry (DTI) has released guidelines for the resumption of select businesses under the GCQ based on Memorandum Circular 20-22.
Category 1 (Full operational capacity). Essential industries such as agriculture, forestry, fisheries, manufacturing, hospitals, logistics services, power, energy, water, waste collection, sewerage, telecommunications.
Retail establishments limited to groceries, supermarkets, public markets, and drug stores.
Services such as deliveries, laundry shops, gasoline stations, construction workers, and media companies.
Category 2 (50% up to full operational capacity). Manufacturing activities concerning beverages, cement and steel, textiles, tobacco, paper, rubber and plastic products, computer products, machinery and equipment, and transport equipment and vehicles.
Also allowed are mining and quarrying, electronic commerce, postal and courier services, export-oriented companies, computer and household goods repair, housing services, funeral and embalming services, veterinary clinics, and security and investigation.
Category 2 also includes public and private construction projects, as well as office administrative and support activities such as photocopying, billing, and record-keeping services.
Category 3 (50% work on-site, work from home, and alternative working arrangements). Allowed are malls and commercial centers, financial services, legal and accounting, management consultancy, architecture and engineering, scientific and research development, advertising and market research, and computer programming.
Also allowed are publishing and printing services; film, music, and television production; photography services; barbershops and salons; and other non-leisure wholesale and retail establishments.
Others under the same category are business process outsourcing companies, banks, money transfer services, pawnshops, microfinance institutions, rental and leasing activities, and the operation of capital markets.
Category 4 (Not allowed to operate). Still barred from reopening are gyms and other fitness facilities, sports facilities, cinemas, theaters, karaoke and comedy bars, nightclubs, beerhouses, toy stores, playgrounds, and rides.
This also includes libraries, museums, art galleries, botanical and zoological gardens, water parks, beaches, resorts, travel agencies, tour operators, casinos and other gambling activities, massage parlors, sauna baths, facial and foot spa, and waxing salons, and other amusement and leisure establishments.
Stay at home
Despite ordering the easing of restrictions, Malacañang reiterated the need for the public to stay at home if they can, saying that the move to a GCQ is to revitalize the economy and not because the Philippines is now safe from the coronavirus disease.
"We must understand that we have started to slowly ease restrictions in order to revitalize the economy, and not because we are safe," said Presidential Spokesperson Harry Roque, Jr.
"We must learn from other countries like South Korea, which contained the spread of the virus but later experienced a spike in COVID-19 cases when citizens became relaxed," he added. — BM, GMA News