BY VICTOR REYES and JOCELYN MONTEMAYOR
THE National Task Force Against COVID-19 on Tuesday relaxed back-riding restrictions as workers from Metro Manila and four nearby provinces were again confronted with public transportation woes during the first day of the areas’ return to the stricter modified enhanced community quarantine (MECQ) level.
President Duterte placed Metro Manila, Bulacan, Cavite, Laguna and Rizal under MECQ from August 4 to 18 to contain the rapid increase in coronavirus disease (COVID-19) infections.
PNP deputy chief for operations and concurrent Joint Task Force COVID Shield chief Lt. Gen. Guillermo Eleazar said back-riding is now allowed even for non-couples but still subject to strict compliance to minimum health standards.
“Since public transportation is not allowed in Metro Manila and the four provinces under MECQ from August 4 to August 18, motorcycle back-riding will be an essential mode of transportation to ensure that no frontliners and other essential workers would be stranded as they go out to report to work and on their way back home,” Eleazar said.
Eleazar said the use of motorcycles and bicycles are encouraged in areas under MECQ but protocols must be observed, including the installation of barrier shields and the wearing of face masks even with helmets on.
Eleazar said motorcycle drivers and passengers should be included in the list of Authorized Person Outside Residence (APOR), including medical workers and workers of permitted industries.
He said non-APOR drivers will be allowed to transport medical frontliners and essential workers.
“We hope that this will help our medical workers and other frontliners a lot during the entire MECQ period, and we also ask motorcycle riders to follow the guidelines to ensure their smooth and safe travel,” said Eleazar.
“Even if they are not considered as APORs, motorcycle drivers will not be cited for any violation at the quarantine control points and random checkpoints if they are back-riding medical frontliners and other essential workers who are allowed to go out under MECQ, and that the motorcycle should have an installed barrier,” he also said.
He added household members who will go out to buy food and medicine supplies will not be allowed to back-ride since they are not considered APOR or essential workers.
The decision to allow back-riding for non-couples was reached during a meeting between NTF members and Metro Manila mayors on Monday night.
The Department of Transportation (DOTr) sought assistance from the Philippine National Police, Armed Forces of the Philippines, and the Metropolitan Manila Development Authority (MMDA) to provide free rides to stranded commuters.
Transportation Secretary Arthur Tugade also said that bus units were deployed to ferry health workers and medical frontliners.
Tugade said the DOTr Road Sector has started implementing the “hospital positioning strategy” where dedicated transportation services like vans will be deployed in various hospitals.
At the Philippine General Hospital (PGH), 10 vans will be on standby; two at the Research Institute for Tropical Medicine (RITM), and two at the Asian Hospital in Alabang. Depending on the demand, Tugade said more vans can be deployed to other hospitals.
Meanwhile, the Pasig River Ferry Service (PRFS) has resumed its operations but will only limits its passengers to medical frontliners and government employees.
“We hope that this effort will be helpful for our health workers and government employees in their transportation needs going to their respective workplaces,” said MMDA chairman Danilo Lim.
The free ferry rides will be available at the following stations: Pinagbuhatan, San Joaquin, Guadalupe, Valenzuela, Lawton and Escolta, Monday to Saturday, from 6 a.m. to 6 p.m.
He said medical frontliners and government employees just need to present valid identification cards to avail of the free rides.
Interior Secretary Eduardo Año urged residents of Metro Manila, Laguna, Cavite, Rizal and Bulacan to cooperate in the implementation of MECQ protocols so they can return to general community quarantine (GCQ) classification by August 19.
During the Laging Handa network briefing, Año said the public’s non-cooperation will only mean a prolonged MECQ classification in the five areas.
“Sundin natin yung patakaran at regulasyon at sigurado ako na ga-graduate tayo dito, by August 19 ay babalik na uli tayo sa GCQ o pa (Lets follow the rules and regulations and I guarantee we will graduate, by August 19 we will be back to GCQ or even MGCQ),” Año said.
“Pero pag hindi tayo tutulong, mahihirapan tayo, aabot pa ito ng matagal. So pagtulungan natin (But if we wont help, we’re going to have difficulty, it will be prolonged. So let help each other),” he added.
Año reiterated his appeal to the public to observe minimum health standards, like wearing of face masks, observing physical distancing and frequent washing of hands, saying these are the keys to preventing the further spread of the virus.
He likewise encouraged families to remain at home and undergo self-quarantine when they have nothing essential to do outside.
He said national and local government units have also stepped up contact tracing efforts while isolating and providing care to COVID-19 positives during the period.
Año said the barangay quarantine pass system will be revived, where only one member per household will be allowed to go out for essential trips.
PNP chief Gen. Archie Gamboa said policemen will be lenient to MECQ violators for the first two or three days.
“Bibigyan natin ang publiko ng strict warning on the first initial days of violation kasi kung nag-a-adjust ang PNP, nag a-adjust din sila (We will give violators strict warning on the first initial days of violation because if the PNP is adjusting, they are also adjusting),” Gamboa said.
Gamboa urged policemen who have put up more checkpoints under MECQ to observe maximum tolerance, especially to women and elderly caught violating quarantine protocols.
“So maximum tolerance and then we hope the public will cooperate.,” said Gamboa, adding: “Alam natin kung sino yung persons who are authorized to be outside their residences so please we need the cooperation of the public para maiwasan natin yung confrontation sa checkpoints (We know the persons who are authorized to be outside their residences so please we need the cooperation of the public to avoid confrontation in checkpoints).”
Executive Secretary Salvador Medialdea, in a memorandum, has directed the AFP, PNP, Philippine Coast Guard and other government institutions, owned and controlled corporations, state universities and colleges and concerned local government units to strictly observe applicable guidelines provided under the Omnibus Guidelines on the Implementation of Community Quarantine during the MECQ period.
OLD AND NEW
Presidential spokesman Harry Roque said members of the media and their offices are allowed to continue their operations even without seeking new accreditation from the Presidential Communications Operations Office (PCOO).
Accreditation IDs given to media entities and their personnel already expired in June.
Roque also said lotto operations, which were supposed to restart on Tuesday, are again suspended.
A bit of bad news, however, is that there would be no extended period of payment for loans and credit card dues under the current MECQ.
Roque said the grant of a longer grace period was allowed under the Bayanihan To Heal as One act which already expired last June 25. – With Noel Talacay