Checkpoints set up for ‘border security’

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    THE PNP yesterday put up 20 quarantine checkpoints for enforcement of travel restrictions outside Metro Manila as authorities began implementing a two-week stricter general community quarantine (GCQ) in the metropolis and in the nearby provinces of Rizal, Cavite, Laguna and Bulacan.

    Police spokesman Brig. Gen. Ildebrandi Usana said the checkpoints were meant for “border security” and officers manning these have been given instructions to strictly screen the entry and exit of motorists to the metropolis and the four provinces.

    “When we speak of border control, from one area to another. We are securing the border as we maintain bubble protocol, securing the population within that particular area to prevent contamination,” said Usana, adding: “This way, we will be able to maintain the number of people going in and out in NCR plus (Rizal, Cavite, Laguna and Bulacan.”

    National Task Force (NTF) against the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) spokesman Restituto Padilla said Metro Manila, Bulacan, Cavite, Laguna and Rizal will be lumped into the “NCR+ bubble,” or the General Community Quarantine or “GCQ bubble.”

    “These areas are considered one bubble, the NCR+,” said Padilla in a radio interview.

    Usana said trips within Metro Manila, Rizal, Cavite, Laguna and Bulacan is allowed, but people wishing to go out of the borders will have to show proof that they are essential workers and are on essential travels.

    “Outside of NCR plus, we are not allowing (entry and exit) if they are non-essential (workers or travelers). We will only allow them if they are on essential travels,” he said.

    He said non-essential travels within the bubble is subject to the uniform curfew of 10 p.m. to 5 a.m.

    Usana said 10 of the checkpoints are in Bulacan: San Miguel town at the boundary of Gapan, Nueva Ecija; Baliwag town at the boundary of Candaba, Pampanga; Calumpit town at the boundary of Apalit, Pampanga, Hagonoy town at the boundary of Masantol, Pampanga; Pulilan Exit, Sta Rita Exit, Bocaue Exit, Philippine Arena Exit, Meycauayan Exit, and Marilao Exit.

    Four checkpoints are in Cavite: One in Alfonso town at the boundary of Nasugbu, Batangas; one in Ternate town also at the boundary of Nasugbu, Batangas; and two in Tagaytay City at the boundary of Talisay, Batangas.

    Two checkpoints are located in Laguna: Calamba town at the boundary of Sto. Tomas, Batangas and Alaminos town at the boundary of Sto. Tomas.

    The four others are in Laguna: San Pablo City at the boundary of Tiaong, Quezon; Luisiana town at the boundary of Lucban, Quezon; Famy town at the boundary of Real, Quezon; and Majayjay town at the boundary of Lucban, Quezon.

    DILG undersecretary and spokesman Jonathan Malaya said the 20 checkpoints were established by the Joint Task Force COVID Shield under police Lt. Gen. Cesar Binag.

    Malaya said existing checkpoints inside Metro Manila are for the enforcement of curfew hours, not travel restrictions.

    Malaya said policeman may inspect private and public vehicles going in and out of the bubble.

    “Just prepare evidence to prove you are covered by IATF Resolution 104,” said Malaya, referring to the resolution that imposed the stricter GCQ in NCR and the four provinces.

    “Just show to the police that what you are doing is essential work or function,” he said.

    While non-essential travels are still allowed inside the bubble, Malaya said the public is encouraged to remain at home and avoid mass gatherings.

    “Help the government address the surge because if the health care system cannot cope up with the number of COVID positives, we may go on a hard lockdown,” Malaya warned.

    “We don’t want a hard lockdown because many Filipinos are (already) suffering and affected by this pandemic,” he added.

    DILG officer-in-charge Bernardo Florece said the movement of people is not restricted inside the bubble area, and in fact, public transport will continue to operate.

    Florece said he has given explicit order to PNP officer-in-charge Lt. Gen. Guillermo Eleazar to establish the checkpoints in the borders of the bubble areas.

    REDUCED CASES

    Presidential spokesman Harry Roque said the government is looking at reducing the number of COVID-19 cases by 25 percent or more by the end of the implementation of the two-week stricter GCQ in NCR Plus.

    Roque, concurrent spokesman of the Inter-Agency Task Force for the Management of Emerging Infectious Diseases, said the government is limiting the movement of people especially in areas where the number of cases is high, and temporarily suspending the operation of certain industries in the NCR and the four provinces in the hope of putting the break on the speedy spread of the coronavirus.

    “We are estimating that with these measures and at the end of the two-week period, that the numbers would drop by at least 25 percent,” Roque said in an interview with ANC, a statement which he echoed in his briefing in Malacañang later on Monday morning.

    Roque said the government wants to see a “dramatic reduction in the cases after the two-week period.”

    Roque said the country has done this before and the people know that “the tried and tested formula for preventing the increase in the cases of COVID is to stay home, be a home-liner”. The country yesterday breached the 8,000 mark for confirmed cases on a single day, the highest reported since the pandemic hit the country last year.

    He reiterated that the rise in COVID-19 surge is due to increased mobility and the detection of new coronavirus variants in the country.

    Asked if the restrictions will not go beyond April 4, Roque said: “For now it is. The decision of the IATF is, it will be only until, for these next two weeks.”

    Roque reiterated that current restrictions in NCR+ cannot be considered a lockdown because the economy remains open and people are still able to go to work and earn a living.

    He denied that the government is refusing to declare stricter lockdowns to avoid providing cash aid like last year. He said if it is needed, the government is prepared to declare it.

    “It’s not (a lockdown), because the economy remains open… So the intention really is to limit mobility… at the same time to keep the economy open because we know that as a consequence of lockdown, more and more people are going hungry,” he said.

    CODE

    Roque reiterated that LGUs, using the Coordinated Operations to Defeat Epidemic (CODE) protocol, should go house-to-house in Metro Manila, especially in areas with high infection rates to do symptom checks and locate the persons who may be infected with the virus.

    He said patients found with COVID-19 symptoms must now be isolated and undergo reverse transcription-polymerase chain reaction (RT-PCR) test to determine if they are infected with COVID-19 or not. CODE was first implemented in August last year.

    Roque also clarified that gyms and fitness centers, and spas located in the NCR+ areas are still allowed to operate at a 75 percent and 50 percent capacity, respectively. He said on Sunday that the operations of gyms and fitness centers will be temporarily suspended during the two-week period.

    He said the operation of gyms and spas are subject to their adherence to safety protocols and minimum public health standards, and dependent on the local government units (LGUs) if they will allow it. He said Quezon City, for instance, prohibited the operation of these establishments for a two-week period.

    Roque reiterated that other establishments or businesses that are temporarily prohibited from operating during the two-week period are driving schools, traditional cinemas and video-and interactive-game arcade, libraries, archives and museums; cultural centers and limited social events at accredited establishments of the Department of Tourism (DOT).

    He said dine-in restaurants, cafes, and similar establishments are allowed to operate for delivery and take-out transactions while only al fresco or outdoor dine in would be allowed under a 50 percent operational capacity.

    AIR TRAVEL

    The Civil Aeronautics Board (CAB) has issued a list of traveler categories for the next two weeks.

    CAB said those who will be allowed to travel via air would be essential workers, health and emergency frontline services personnel, government officials and government frontline personnel, and duly authorized humanitarian assistance actors.

    It said persons traveling for medical or humanitarian reasons, anyone crossing areas for work or business and going back home, and returning overseas Filipinos and overseas Filipino workers would also be allowed.

    CAB reminded air travels to be ready with their requirements, such as a valid ID and certificate of employment, to avoid any hassle.

    “All air carriers are reminded to ensure that departing, arriving, or transiting passengers from the said subject areas are traveling for non-leisure purposes,” it added.

    Local airlines operators Philippine Airlines, Cebu Pacific and Philippine AirAsia yesterday suspended some of their leisure local flights in compliance with the new guidelines.

    They advised affected leisure travelers with scheduled flights from March 22 to April 4 this year to rebook, refund without penalties, or convert their tickets into travel vouchers.

    PAL said domestic leisure travelers affected have three options: convert their tickets to travel vouchers until June 30, 2021; avail unlimited rebooking until December this year, and refund without penalties.

    Cebu Pacific, on the other hand, said it will continue to operate its flight schedule as planned for the next three days until March 24, 2021. However, passengers who wish to postpone their flights and those traveling for non-essential reasons can rebook, store the amount in travel fund and refund.

    Due to the high volume of requests, the refund process may take up to seven months from date of request according to Cebu Pacific.

    AirAsia Philippines said all its flights both inbound and outbound Manila to domestic destinations are operational and will push through as scheduled.

    “We also continue to mount chartered, cargo, and repatriation flights as we continue to fly Filipinos and essential goods home amidst the pandemic,” AirAsia said.

    LOCKDOWN

    AFP spokesman Maj. Gen. Edgard Arevalo said the military headquarters in Camp Aguinaldo was locked down after 83 military personnel tested positive of COVID-19 over the past five days.

    The high number of cases, according to Arevalo, prompted AFP chief Lt. Gen. Cirilito Sobejana to order a lockdown of the camp effective last Monday. Arevalo did not say until when the lockdown will be implemented.

    “For a period of five days (March 17 to 21), there has been 83 fresh cases of COVID-19 infection in Camp Aguinaldo – prompting AFP Chief to order the lockdown,” Arevalo said.

    “For a period of five days, that’s many,” said Arevalo, adding Camp Aguinaldo has not recorded in the past that large number of COVID-19 cases in a span of only five days.

    In the entire AFP, Arevalo said there are already 7,342 personnel who contracted the disease – 6,424 have already recovered, 870 are active cases and 48 died.

    Arevalo said the lockdown of Camp Aguinaldo means the entry and exit of all AFP personnel and workers in concessionaires will be restricted.

    “Military personnel will be confined inside camp and may leave camp only with proper authority. Relatedly, only those with official transactions inside camp will be allowed to enter. Families and dependents of military personnel residing inside camp are also covered by the lockdown,” said Arevalo.

    He said only those between ages 21 to 59 who are essential workers will be allowed to leave their military-provided houses “provided their present relevant office or work IDs.”

    “However, operations and delivery of services by military units and offices inside camp will continue unhampered. At least 50% of the work force will personally man their offices. All civilian personnel, except those who by nature of their job requires personal presence, are to work from home,” said Arevalo.

    Amid the rising number of COVID-19 cases in the country, Baguio City mayor Benjamin Magalong said the city has suspended tourist travels to the city from Metro Manila, Rizal, Cavite, Bulacan and Laguna.

    Magalong said the move was in response to stricter general community quarantine in the five areas.

    Magalong said 70 percent of tourists that come to Baguio City come from the five areas. – With Jocelyn Montemayor, Noel Talacay and Myla Iglesias