LGUs ordered: Deploy marshals to transport hubs

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    THE Department of Interior and Local Government (DILG) yesterday directed local government units to deploy marshals in public transport terminals located in areas included in the “NCR Plus bubble” to enforce minimum health protocols among commuters.

    The bubble covers Metro Manila and the populous provinces of Bulacan, Cavite, Laguna, and Rizal.

    Interior undersecretary Epimaco Densing, during the Laging Handa press briefing, said they have asked local executives to assign marshals to jeepney, bus and other public transport terminals to ensure that commuters are wearing their face masks and shields properly and that they observing physical distancing.

    Marshals shall likewise make sure that mandatory plastic barriers are installed in public transport vehicles to separate its passengers, and that the riders do not talk or eat while inside the vehicles.

    Police spokesman Brig. Gen. Ildebrandi Usana, in the same press briefing, said the PNP continues to make adjustments in their checkpoint operations.

    “Na-realize ng ating kapulisan na hindi po kailangan may restriction sa movement ng ating mamamayan whether essential or non-essential so long as they are within the bubble (The police realized there is no need to restrict the movement of people, whether essential or non-essential, so long as they are within the bubble),” Usana said.

    “Within this bubble, anyone can move around, hindi naman binibigyan sila ng mahigpit na pag-implement ng restrictions, except of course kung ang pulis natin nakita pong may mga violations with regards sa minimum health protocols (Within this bubble, anyone can move around. We are not implementing strict restrictions, except of course if our police see violations with regards minimum health protocols),” he added.

    The PNP has set up dozens of checkpoints at the NCR Plus bubble boundaries to ensure that people who are not on essential mission are prohibited from going in and out of the bubble.

    Despite not being included in the NCR Plus bubble, the Diocese of Legazpi in Albay has decided to temporarily shut down famous pilgrimage sites in the province ahead of the observance of the Holy Week.

    In a report by CBCP News, Legazpi Bishop Joel Baylon announced that the Shrine of the Divine Mercy and the Stations of the Cross in Ligao City have both been closed “until further notice”.

    “I am declaring this temporary closure of these pilgrimage sites in order to prevent the possible spread of the virus. This means that not even the private praying of the Station of the Cross nor a simple visit to the Shrine shall be allowed,” Baylon said.

    The prelate appealed for the understanding of the faithful, who may be looking forward to doing a pilgrimage in the popular religious sites. He advised the faithful to just pray and do the Stations of the Cross in their respective homes.

    The shrine in Albay features life-size sculptures of the 14 Stations of the Cross and is one of the popular Lenten destinations in the province.

    During the Holy Week, thousands of pilgrims from different parts of the Philippines visit the site to pray.

    The Department of Tourism said visits to resorts – even ones that claim to have programs that boost immunity – do not qualify as exception to leave the bubble during the Holy Week break.

    Tourism undersecretary Benito Bengzon Jr. said those who are hoping to slide under the restrictions imposed by the Inter-Agency Task Force for the Management of Emerging Infectious Diseases (IATF) are bound to be disappointed.

    “We have very clear guidelines from the IATF. No one may leave the bubble unless for exceptional case of humanitarian or medical emergencies,” he said, adding: “As far as we are concerned the service being offered (by these establishments) cannot be classified as a medical emergency).”

    The DOT official however acknowledged that the timing of the bubble covering Metro Manila and nearby provinces spelled a big loss for the tourism industry.

    “This is bound to have a negative impact. Historically, the Holy Week break is the peak period for domestic tourism when entire families and groups of friends choose to go out and travel,” he said. Metro Manila, he pointed out, is the biggest market for local tourist traffic.

    Bengzon said the industry remains hopeful for a fast turnaround once conditions improve enough to allow regular travels.

    He said this is the reason why airlines, hotels, resort operators and travel agencies readily agreed to allow easy rebooking or refund for those inside the NCR Plus bubble who had to cancel their planned vacations outside.

    Bengzon said residents of Metro Manila and the four affected provinces can still opt to take advantage of staycation packages by hotels and resorts inside the General Community Quarantine (GCQ) bubble.

    Meanwhile, the Pasay City government yesterday banned the selling of liquor and other intoxicating drinks to non-residents after 8 p.m.

    City Ordinance No. 6162 amended section 2 of Ordinance 6145 that was passed last year regulating the sale, distribution, purchase and serving of liquor within the city from 8 a.m. up to 8 p.m. only Pasay City residents only.

    Under the new ordinance, non-Pasay residents are temporarily restricted to purchase, sell or offer for sale any liquor products within the city until such time that the community quarantine has been lifted in Metro Manila.

    Meanwhile, the House of Representatives yesterday adopted Speaker Lord Allan Velasco’s resolution urging the IATF to establish a unified national contact tracing protocol to ensure a more effective health emergency data monitoring system in the country.

    “Contact tracing is a public health strategy to dramatically decrease the impact of an epidemic or pandemic that has been used for years to combat communicable diseases such as the Ebola outbreak in 2014 and the severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS) outbreak in 2003,” Velasco said in House Resolution No. 1536.

    The Speaker noted that the Philippines is only able to identify at least seven contacts per infected person when the ideal contact tracing ratio should be 1:37 for urban areas and 1:30 for rural communities.

    Velasco said the proposed unified national contact tracing protocol should include the designation of a government agency or body as the centralized repository of information to facilitate a faster health emergency response system.

    The protocol, he said, should also include a secure, encrypted transmission of data, a unified data procedure for solution providers; compliance with Republic Act 10173 or the Data Privacy Act of 2012 in the handling of data; and the provision of real-time data access to accredited contact tracing app providers. – With Gerard Naval, Peter Tabingo, Noel Talacay and Wendell Vigilia