METRO mayors want the country’s capital region to remain under general community quarantine (GCQ) to keep in check the number of coronavirus disease (COVID-19) cases in the country, Interior Secretary Eduardo Año said yesterday, before joining a virtual meeting of the local executives on Sunday evening.
Año said members of the Metro Manila Council (MMC) were set to discuss last night their formal recommendation as to the unified quarantine classification of the metropolis starting October 1.
Metro Manila is under GCQ until September 30, along with Bulacan, Batangas and Tacloban City. On the other hand, Iligan, Bacolod and Lanao del Sur are under modified enhanced community quarantine (MECQ). Iloilo City was placed under MECQ from September 25 to October 9.
Aside from the secretary of the Department of Interior and Local Government (DILG), other members of the Inter-Agency Task Force for the Management of Emerging Infectious Diseases (IATF-EID) have also been invited to join the meeting of the NCR mayors.
“The initial feedback that I got in our earlier meetings is that most of the Metro Manila mayors want to maintain GCQ,” Año said.
Cabinet Secretary Karlo Nograles, concurrent IATF co-chairman, on Saturday night said some areas in Metro Manila are already qualified and have actually appealed for a less strict level of quarantine classifications due to improving COVID-19 cases in their areas.
However, Nograles said Metro Manila mayors prefer to have a single community quarantine level for the NCR because of their geographical locations and shared borders.
Nograles said that based on indicators and COVID-related data from Metro Manila, some cities have already showed improvements like lower transmission rates, slowing attack rates or improving hospital care capacity.
“Technically speaking, there are cities that can now appeal for a lower classification, based on the numbers we see,” he said during the Karlo Nograles Live program over Facebook.
Año said the executive’s decision-making process require the IATF to consult with the NCR mayors because local executives are at the forefront in the implementation of quarantine protocols in Metro Manila, where most of the more than 300,000 COVID-19 cases are recorded.
After getting the MMC’s recommendation, Año said the IATF will meet Monday afternoon to discuss all positions related to the imposition of community quarantines in the country, including the position of economic managers to already relax the quarantine classification in Metro Manila.
The recommendation will be submitted later on Monday to President Duterte for approval.
Año said the President may announce the fresh quarantine classification of Metro Manila and other areas on Monday night.
GCQ FOR OCTOBER
Año said the general sentiment among members of the task force and the health sector is to retain NCR’s GCQ classification for the entire month of October as “it will be hard if there will be another surge in COVID-19 cases.”
He noted that the number of cases had been on the downtrend over the past days, and cautioned that relaxing the quarantine classification in NCR may again cause a spike in positive findings and, subsequently, prompt the leadership to revert the metropolis to the ultra strict enhanced community quarantine (ECQ) or the less strict modified ECQ (MECQ).
Dr. Tony Leachon, former adviser of the National Task Force on COVID-19, agreed that it would be better if the NCR stays under GCQ until the end of October.
Urging the government to withhold plans to ease the metro’s community quarantine category, Leachon said in a radio interview: “For me, it would be better if we will still be under GCQ for one more month, October 1 until October 31.”
He said this is in order for the country to be able to better celebrate the Christmas Season.
“It would be better if we control the merry-making of people now so that come the holiday season, we would have a ‘sandbag’ if we are able to further lower the number of cases,” he added.
He echoed Año’s concerns that easing the current GCQ in Metro Manila could result to the country seeing another surge in cases by Christmas time.
“If it would be eased now, by permitting socio-economic activities, as well as, knowing the culture of Filipinos, they will really come out if there is an occasion, we might see a surge up to the Christmas Season,” said Leachon.
The Health Professionals Alliance Against COVID-19 (HPAAC) had earlier already asked the government to take it slow in further relaxing the country’s lockdown levels.
Joint Task Force COVID Shield chief Lt. Gen. Guillermo Eleazar yesterday ordered police units to be on the lookout for beerhouses and bars illegally operating in their areas amid the continuing threat of COVID-19.
Eleazar issued the directive a day after the Quezon City Police Districted arrested 95 people drinking alcohol and partying at the Guilly’s Island night club in Quezon City, in violation of existing quarantine protocols against mass gatherings.
QC mayor Joy Belmonte ordered the closure of the establishment, saying restobars, night clubs and other leisure and entertainment centers are still prohibited from re-opening under GCQ.
Belmonte said restobars are allowed to operate only as restaurants but only on a limited customer basis. The QC government is determining if additional sanctions would be imposed against Guilly’s Island.
On September 8, policemen arrested 39 people, including five foreigners, while drinking liquor at the Kartel Rooftop bar in Makati City.
“Based on the guidelines issued by the IATF-MEID, the operation of beerhouses, bars and other similar establishments are still prohibited under the modified general community quarantine, and much more under the general community quarantine,” said Eleazar.
“So any attempt to accept customers is already a clear violation of the IATF guidelines and possibly even local ordinances,” added Eleazar.
Eleazar said he is not discounting the possibility that similar bars and beerhouses are already operating in the provinces, particularly in urban areas, in violation of quarantine regulations. “That is why our commanders on the ground should regularly check on these establishments,” he said.
Eleazar said he has also asked police commanders to coordinate with local government units in ensuring that violators would be penalized by virtue of fine, closure of establishments and even the filing of charges. – With Jocelyn Montemayor and Gerard Naval